The long-awaited moment has finally arrived. Qatar is bringing the World Cup to the Arab region as the greatest sporting spectacle on the planet will be staged from November 20 to December 18.
For so many reasons, this is a very different World Cup. The European club season has been broken into two halves for the first-ever winter World Cup. Players have hopped onto special planes straight from the mid-season to fulfil their national duties. It’s an occasion no one wants to miss, especially after going through three years of blood and sweat in the qualifying stages. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the two ageing icons, can vouch for that, having survived those lung-busting qualifying stages in their respective continents — South America and Europe.
But before we deep dive into the international journey of arguably the two greatest club footballers of all time, let’s first celebrate this historic occasion. The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar is a groundbreaking moment for the entire region, a region that has long been in love with the beautiful game. Being a small country, Qatar also provides a unique opportunity for the million-plus global fans to soak up the World Cup experience in one place.
This will be a completely different experience compared to the past World Cups. When Russia and Brazil hosted the last two World Cups, players and fans faced long flights to move from one city to the other for the next game. Tim Cahill, one of the brand ambassadors for the 2022 World Cup, who waltzed into the history books in 2006 by becoming the first player from Australia to score a World Cup goal, says Qatar will be an unforgettable experience for fans.
“It’s going to be a different World Cup, it’s going to be more compact, eight stadiums across 70 miles, players will love it because in other World Cups, you sometimes fly five hours after a game. It will be an amazing experience for the fans too as there will be three or four matches in a day,” Cahill recently told Khaleej Times during an interview.
“My role is about educating people about how amazing this region is. When you talk about sports, people say it’s new. But it’s not new. Qatar won the Asian Cup. The World Cup creates excitement in the region and it opens up hospitality and tourism.”
FIFA President Gianni Infantino said the Qatar showpiece will bring people together. “It is an opportunity for Qatar and the whole Gulf region to present itself to the world in another light and get rid, once and for all, of some of the prejudice that sadly exists,” he said.
“It will definitely help to get more mutual understanding between people of different cultures and backgrounds, I am convinced of that. We will have two million people coming from all over the world and showing the world that humanity can live in peace together,” he added.
The Arab region’s first World Cup will also play a key role in FIFA’s efforts to make the global game ‘truly global’.
“Football is not the exclusive property of a few, it is the world sport and we need to make it grow all over the world,” the veteran Swiss football official said.
“We need to organise more competitions, more events all over the world. In some parts of the world, there is maybe too much football, while in other parts, there is not enough top football,” he said.
Qatar also provides the last chance for Messi and Ronaldo to end their World Cup drought. Despite their staggering success at the club level, these two giants of the game have remained empty-handed on the biggest international football stage. So, who has the better chance of going all the way in Qatar?
Messi’s Argentina arrive on the back of their Copa America triumph in 2021, their first success on the international stage since 1993. After a slow start to life at Paris Saint-Germain, Messi is beginning to show his old form in the French league. And with Argentina, he has finally found a system that allows him to unleash his creative spark in the final third.
Ronaldo hasn’t been helped by his run-ins with the Manchester United management. Will that affect his and Portugal’s performance at the World Cup? If mankind has learned one thing from the highest level in the sporting world, it is that you never write off legendary athletes.
Nobody gave Portugal a chance at the 2016 Euros. But we all know what happened when the Ronaldo-inspired Portugal silenced the French fans in the Paris final. But neither Argentina nor Portugal have the strongest teams in Qatar. It’s France and Brazil that have squads to demoralise opponents even before the kickoffs.
France, featuring Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema, have what it takes to become only the third team in history after Italy and Brazil to defend the World Cup title.
Brazil is oozing with talent across the field, but a lot will depend on their temperament. Can they keep their head when the pressure is intense in a knockout game?
That reminds us of England who will be under immense pressure again to end their five-decade-long wait for the World Cup. Semifinals at the 2018 and a runners-up finish at the 2020 Euro proved Gareth Southgate’s team are on the right track.
Can they go one step further? That’s the million-dollar question now in the birthplace of the beautiful game.
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