From the 5th largest country in the world (Brazil) in 2014 to the largest country in the world (Russia) In 2018, the World Cup is moving to the rich and tiny 164th largest Qatar, a country slightly smaller than Connecticut. From recent hosts Japan and South Korea (a total of 164 million people when they were hosted in 2002), to Germany (82 million), South Africa (51 million), Brazil (202 million) and Russia (144 million). The World Cup has come to a country of about 2.9 million people, the vast majority of whom are migrant workers.
Into this tiny country they will sneak 32 teams in eight groups to determine a winner over 29 days, plus expected 1.2 million fans including those from across the Arab world celebrating the inaugural Arab World Cup, even those dancing around Doha’s magnificent souk on Thursday night. They’ve wedged themselves into eight stadiums, none imposingly spaced from the other, making it possible to stare down from a freeway and spot two of them without moving your eyeballs.
“It’s too small a country,” an 86-year-old Swiss man told a Swiss newspaper earlier this month. “Football and the World Cup are too big for that.” The remarks sounded strange because they came from Sepp Blatterwho was president of the world football association FIFA from 1998 to 2015, including the end of 2010 when 22 FIFA voters chose Qatar over the United States, South Korea, Japan and Australia.
Also, it’s November, which makes this World Cup a drastic outlier. From its beginnings in South America and Europe to the most recent edition in Russia four years ago, the World Cup has been a summer affair. But from the moment Blatter opened the envelope to pull out a card marked “QATAR” at a 2010 ceremony, a card now on display in Qatar’s National Museum, it seemed clear that such a demanding sport in the vicious summer air of the Persian (or Arabian) Gulf.
That meant this World Cup was moved here to November, with daytime temperatures typically hovering in the 80s and night air that’s breathable and sweet. That meant this World Cup gave a hard elbow to the world’s domestic leagues, like the big five European nations in England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France, which had to suspend play for a month. That meant the likelihood of injury or reduced fitness has increased as most leagues were up and running until last weekend and the usual idle month before the World Cup was removed.
That tight calendar found its greatest pain in Munich earlier this month, when the rigors of league play so close to a World Cup accidentally caught up with Senegalese star Sadio Mané. one of the world’s best players. A leg injury he sustained required that night the surgical reattachment of a tendon to a fibulamade his initial inclusion in Senegal’s side seem far-fetched, culminating recently in his crushing removal from the squad.
Even as the World Cup has arrived amid the sound of the Muslim call to prayer echoing through the metropolitan area, it has sparked global disputes over cultural mores. A epitome occurred on Friday when Qatar, where alcoholic beverages flow only at certain hotels, reversed his earlier decision to allow beer to be sold at the stadiumwhich has long been considered an integral part of football in many other cultures.
Far more controversial is that the country has faced criticism for its human rights practices. including the treatment of guest workers, particularly those whose building work built this World Cup, and the criminalization of gay relationships. “It’s ridiculous that the World Cup is taking place there,” said Dutch coach Louis van Gaal. “FIFA says they want to develop football there. These are cops —. It’s about money, about commercial interests.”
Qatar has not shied away from a rejoinder. Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani told a German newspaper earlier this month: “It is ironic for this tone to be used in Europe in countries that call themselves liberal democracies. That honestly sounds very arrogant and very racist.”
And in an unsolicited, defiant and lengthy opening speech at his press conference here on Saturday – the speech alone lasted almost an hour – FIFA President Gianni Infantino defended the World Cup in Qatar. “I think what we Europeans have been doing all over the world for the last 3,000 years,” he said, “we should apologize for the next 3,000 years before we start teaching people lessons.” He called it “moral teaching, one-sided” and said, “It’s just hypocrisy.”
The way of life in Qatar, for example, couldn’t be more different from the way of life in Brazil, whose festive fans provide an infallible World Cup backdrop given the only country to have qualified all 22 times.
With everything that’s swirling around above, a certain randomness seems possible in terms of football. The 32 national teams lacked the usual time to regroup as they meet again to play in eight groups of four of three games each, with the top two finishers in each group progressing to a 16-team knockout round. The rush of it all could benefit some teams and hinder others.
That makes it plausible that the world could be here breaking Europe’s recent World Cup stranglehold, which has produced four different winners from the last four events – Italy, Spain, Germany, France – and 13 of the 16 semi-finalists in that span. If that trend finally falters, it could be down to Brazil, the tournament favorites and five-time winners, who are trying to end a drought that their picky fans find outrageous: 20 years without a title and staggering defeats to Europeans – France (2006 quarterfinals) who Netherlands (2010 quarter-finals), Germany (2014 semi-finals in a haunted house 7-1 in Brazil) and Belgium (2018 quarter-finals). Brazil will bring an attack with Neymar, Richarlison, Vinicius Junior and a knack for considerable beauty.
If not Brazil, it could be Brazil’s neighbor to the south, Argentina, who, like Brazil, went 17 games of World Cup qualifiers unbeaten.
France still has the cup from 2018 but has a habit of following peaks with troughs, while England have high hopes based on recent years but have been in poor form lately, while Germany have not been Germany in the last two major international tournaments and Spain have gone from one great generation to one precocious generation has passed .
Speaking of generations, Belgium brings back its best ever, Semifinalists last time while possibly a step beyond his maturity as the Netherlands return after a painful absence in 2018. The same applies to the United States, a young team Second in North America’s charm is Canada, which is emerging as one of the drought-fighting darlings for the first time in 36 years.
The other so darling, Wales, appears for the first time in the year 64when it played commendably in a quarter-final in 1958, losing 1-0 to Brazil and rising icon Pelé, then just 17. Wales open Monday against the United States, a day after home side Qatar opened all games against hosts Ecuador much better than expected when the envelope opened 12 years ago.
Meanwhile, two of the world’s most famous personalities will retire: Cristiano Ronaldo, the 37-year-old Portuguese; and Lionel Messi, the 35-year-old Argentinian and world-renowned goalscorer.
Messi has a troubled relationship with the past four World Cups already tucked away in his bio. He and Argentina reached a final in Brazil in 2014 in which Germany lost 1-0, and her list has a quality that goes beyond him. “We have a very nice group that is very eager, but we are thinking about leaving little by little,” Messi said in a recent interview with CONMEBOL, the South American football federation. “We know that World Cup groups are not easy.”
If he and she rode off in a way that would please much of the world, it might even overshadow the extraordinary notion of where it all took place.
World Cup in Qatar
Group leader: That US men’s national soccer teamled by coach Gregg Berhalter and star striker Christian Pulisic, qualified for the 2022 World Cup, an improvement on their disastrous and unsuccessful 2018 season. Here’s a close look at how all teams stack in each group.
Today’s worldview: Even if the world championship is only a few days away from the start, The talk of boycotts is getting louder and louder. Football fans protesters have voiced their opinions Contempt for Qatar’s autocratic monarchyincluding alleged human rights abuses, suppression of dissent, persecution of LGBTQ people and mistreatment of migrant workers.
The best of the best: More than 800 players from 32 countries and six continents will gather in Qatar for a four-week World Cup competition. These players Likely to promise a breakout tournament or hold the key to their team exceeding expectations.