World Cup 2022 diary: Brazilian bus hero and Benzema's Ballon d'Or stand-in

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The 2022 World Cup is in full swing, with three matches on Monday following Sunday's one-sided opener.

There is plenty going on in Qatar outside the confines of the pitch, however.

Indeed, even the trips to the stadium can provide entertainment as tournament organisers get to grips with new venues, new journeys and even new roads.

Stats Perform brings you the latest direct from Doha...

OPENING GAME'S SATNAV SAVIOUR

Every World Cup needs a hero, and Stats Perform found an early contender for Qatar 2022's in an unlikely place ahead of Sunday's opening match.

With members of the media advised to use official transport for the 50kilometre journey north from Doha to Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, reporters dutifully boarded one of the many yellow buses at the Qatar National Convention Centre.

But it soon became clear things weren't quite going to plan when the bus came to an abrupt halt at the dead end of an unfinished road.

Two U-turns were followed by a spot of impromptu off-roading across a vacant lot, but after several more wrong turns and a real prospect of missing kick-off, one exasperated Brazilian journalist stepped in to save the day.

Armed with Google Maps on his phone, he strode to the front of the bus and started explaining to the hapless driver that he was heading in the wrong direction.

Several arguments later, and with repeated pleading to change lane or avoid hitting that one other car on the six-lane highway, the bus trundled into the stadium approach.

Nearly an hour behind schedule, and having missed Morgan Freeman and BTS, reporters rushed off the bus and into the ground's inner perimeter, but not before a heartfelt "thank you" to the Brazilian saviour.

LOUIS VAN CALM?

He has a well-deserved reputation as an unpredictable man in press conferences, but Louis van Gaal showed his gentle side on Sunday.

Speaking ahead of the Netherlands’ World Cup opener against Senegal, Van Gaal was calmness personified, smiling throughout as he jousted with journalists about his relaxed attitude, his indifference to rap music and who would start in goal against the African champions.

Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk seemed to approve, laughing at Van Gaal’s approach on several occasions.

The former Barcelona and Manchester United coach took his new-found love of the press to another level at the end of the gathering, however. As he exited the stage, he was approached for pictures by several of the Senegalese contingent. FIFA officials tried to usher him away, but Van Gaal was having none of it, taking his time to pose for numerous pictures with a wide grin.

Has the leopard changed his spots?

BUY YOUR OWN BALLON D'OR

France coach Didier Deschamps and captain Hugo Lloris met the media on Monday ahead of the following day's opener against Australia, and Karim Benzema was unsurprisingly a popular topic of conversation.

No reigning Ballon d'Or winner has ever won the World Cup, but Benzema became the first to miss the finals through injury when he hobbled out of training last week.

Ballon d'Or runner-up Sadio Mane is also absent with an ailment, robbing the tournament of some of its glitz and glamour.

Fortunately, Doha's Souq Waqif – a winding market that usually sells an array of local trinkets and garments but has been redressed in World Cup merchandise – is selling its own Ballon d'Or trophies, as one Stats Perform reporter discovered.

Perhaps Kevin De Bruyne – 2022's third-placed finisher but the highest-ranked players now in Qatar – could take a trip to this stall.

MARADONA MANIA!

If De Bruyne had headed to the Souq on Monday, though, he would have had to contend with a large contingent of Argentina fans, parading huge Diego Maradona flags in a party atmosphere.

Maradona was La Albiceleste's talisman when they last won the World Cup in 1986, and the travelling supporters will this time see their hopes carried by Lionel Messi.

Support for Messi was also evident, of course – as was clear confidence in the Paris Saint-Germain superstar helping to end Argentina's long wait for glory in the first finals since Maradona's 2020 passing.

PRECURSOR TO KHALIFA INTERNATIONAL STADIUM CHAOS

Thousands of fans were left unable to get into Khalifa International Stadium for England's game against Iran on Monday due to an issue with the FIFA Ticketing app.

That technological failure ensured getting into the game was no straightforward task, but a Stats Perform reporter had encountered difficulties accessing an exhibit at the 3-2-1 Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum – which is within the stadium perimeter – even a day earlier.

Initially halted as security guards insisted no media were allowed on the premises, the reporter was then closely supervised by two stadium staff and a guard as he purchased a ticket before heading through an airport-style security checkpoint.

Both paper and digital versions of his Hayya card – a Qatar entry permit during the World Cup – were checked twice, and the reporter was again joined by a security guard as he was taken on a bus ride to the museum.

At least he made it to his planned destination, which appeared to be more than could be said for England fans 24 hours later!