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“Morocco was impressive” during this World Cup

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Arsène Wenger, director of football development at the International Federation (Fifa), drew an initial technical assessment of the group stage of the 2022 World Cup, this Sunday, December 4 in Doha, along with former German striker Jürgen Klinsman. The former French coach has distributed some good points to some teams.

RFI: Arsène Wenger, the African teams accumulated 24 points during the group stage of this 2022 World Cup. This is a record. They also have two representatives in the round of 16. Does this mean that African football has progressed?

Arsène Wenger : African football is well represented here. I expect African football to be more and more represented at the World Cup. I am personally involved in a talent development project in Africa. Above all, Africa will have more representatives at the next World Cup: nine or ten. We therefore expect Africa to be one of the main contenders in the World Cup in the future.

What did you think of Tunisia’s victory against France?

Tunisia was heavily criticized before this match against France. During my presentation, I talked about teams that learn quickly and adjust quickly. Tunisia is a good example. The Tunisians found a good balance during their third meeting. But it was too late. They put in an outstanding performance. I think that’they deserved to win this match.

As for the Moroccan team, they were impressive, really fantastic in every game. I can’t wait to see how they perform in the knockout phase.

What can you say about the teams’ lack of preparation time for this World Cup? Do you think that’s one of the reasons why there have been so many upsets during this group stage?

When you come to the World Cup, you know not to lose the first match. Teams that had experience from previous tournaments and had obtained results, such as France, England or Brazil, played well during this first game. Just like the teams that were mentally ready, with a mindset to focus on the competition, not the political demonstrations.

Is it possible to return to three player changes per match, instead of five?

No, no one wants to go back to three changes (laughter). I would also like to remind you that there are only three possibilities to make these five changes. There are not five possibilities to change five players. There have even been requests to be able to make more changes. I think there is a small topic there. Because sometimes changing so many players can destroy the structure of a team. Before, it took longer to make these five changes. That’s why we added additional time. This is a good way to rectify lost game time. Before, we added 30 seconds of play each time the player changed. However, now we take into account the actual lost playing time. We won’t go back to three changes but we need to add playing time.

Do you plan to produce a report on the impact in technical and physical terms that all this additional time has on matches?

Currently, we have not calculated this. That’s why we didn’t introduce it. And, more generally, what we have shown here is that it does nothing in terms of efficiency because we have a lot more additional time played and fewer goals scored. [durant le temps additionnel, Ndlr]. For the moment, there is no real impact on the outcome of a match.

There were a lot of twists and good stories during the last matches of this group stage, which took place simultaneously. For the next World Cup, in 2026, do you still want to switch to a formula of 16 groups of 3 teams?

For the next World Cup, with 48 teams, it has not yet been decided whether there will be 16 groups of three countries, 12 groups of four or another formula. We are not yet in a position to decide. It will be a decision of the FIFA Council. It will be taken next year, I think.

Finally, can you say a word about Pelé, whose state of health has caused concern in recent hours?

Skin was my idol when I was a kid. We’ve all seen the news that he’s not doing very well. We obviously wish him to get better soon. I spoke with his agent not too long ago. He wasn’t as pessimistic as the news we just got. That’s why I was surprised and shocked to learn that he was not well. His agent told me he was going to the hospital but not that he was in danger. I hope he is right. Let’s hope he’s doing well.

Statements taken at a press conference

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