Even though the opening match of the World Cup in Qatar will take place on November 20 between the host nation and Ecuador, the managers of the teams still have a lot of choices to make before the tournament begins. As of the 21st of October, provisional rosters with up to 55 players have already been finalized, however, those rosters will need to be cut down to 26 players by the 13th of November. However, if any of their players become hurt in the time between now and then, the managers will have to make a difficult choice.
Raphael Varane, who hails from France, is one such example. The central defender has been essential to the achievements of Les Blues and Manchester United, but he was forced to leave United’s match against Chelsea on October 22 owing to a muscle injury. The match ended in a draw. It was first feared that Varane would be forced to sit out the entirety of the World Cup; however, recent indications indicate that the severity of the injury may not be as severe as it was initially thought to be. It is possible that he will need approximately three weeks to heal, which would put his return to playing around November 13—a time when rosters must be reduced.
The selection process
Even while 26-man rosters have to be submitted by November 13, that doesn’t imply that a team can’t make any adjustments before their first game after that date. The next day, November 14, players are required to be released by their clubs. This gives managers five to six days to evaluate their teams and determine who among their players is available for selection. Changes to the provisional roster that have already been confirmed can be adjusted up to 24 hours before a team’s first match in the event that a member of the team is unable to participate in that match due to injury or illness. It is also advantageous for the manager to announce deep provisional lists when club clubs are playing tough schedules between now and the World Cup because of the benefits that accrue to the management. Any players heading to the World Cup who sustain injuries before the tournament can be removed from the roster, but their spots must be filled by players who were named on the provisional list.
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Because of this, the date of November 21 has been set as the cutoff for Deschamps to make a decision regarding whether or not Varane will be able to contribute to his World Cup squad. If Varane is already expected to be fit for the second match, then it makes sense for Deschamps to call him up in his final roster because the risk is minor if he needs to be replaced. However, this only makes sense if Varane is already expected to be fit. The head coach of France would have roughly a week to monitor Varane and see how far along in his recovery he is.
This window of time is significant because players could have relatively minor injuries between now and Qatar, causing them to miss the opening game of the World Cup but still be eligible for the duration of the competition. If the player suffers a setback after being locked into the roster, the manager will need to determine the risk by weighing the importance of the injured player against the depth of their squad. If the player is unable to play after being locked into the roster, the manager will not be able to make any changes to the roster. Because the World Cup takes place during the summer months, the majority of players’ injury statuses are known well in advance of the competition. As a result, these kinds of judgments are made very infrequently. The injury situation is one that managers will have to deal with on the fly at the Qatar World Cup because they will need to weigh exactly how likely it is that a slightly banged-up player will be to contribute for the next month during a tournament with rosters that can’t be changed once it begins. However, the Qatar World Cup presents a host of other great unknowns.