Teams focused on World Cup, not politics, had easier passage to last 16, Arsène Wenger says

Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Technical Study Group Press Conference - Main Media Center, Doha, Qatar - November 19, 2022 FIFA Chief of Global Football Development Arsene Wenger during a press conference REUTERS/Matthew Childs

AL RAYYAN, Qatar, Dec 4 (Reuters) - The outcome of the World Cup group stages showed the teams that advanced without complication were those best prepared mentally and not distracted by political issues, according to former Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger.

Referring to shock exits by Germany, Belgium and Denmark, Wenger, speaking during a technical analysis of the group stages by world governing body FIFA, said it was notable the teams that focused on football and started well, like Brazil, France and England, had easier passage to the last 16.

"The teams who were not disappointing in their first game performance - because when you got to the World Cup you know you have not to lose the first game - are the teams with experience, they have results ....they played well in first game," Wenger said on Sunday.

"The teams as well who were mentally ready and had the mindset to focus on the competition and not on political demonstrations."

The Qatar World Cup has seen an unusual amount of political discussion from teams, with some voicing concerns about the host's treatment of migrant labour, its approach to LGBT rights and FIFA's threats to penalise players for political statements.

Germany's soccer federation was the most vocal in pressing for anti-discrimination "OneLove" armbands to be worn by players and said "extreme blackmail" led to Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Wales, England and Switzerland abandoning plans to wear them.

Before their surprise opening defeat by Japan, the German team posed for a pre-match photo with their hands on their mouths, alluding to them being silenced by FIFA.

Denmark also made a stand over the armbands and last month wanted to use training kit with slogans in support for human rights.

Speculation had swirled over a threat by Denmark to withdraw from FIFA over the armbands, which its federation dismissed as a media misunderstanding.

Reporting by Martin Petty, editing by Ed Osmond

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