A messy World Cup brimming with charms and strife is coming to Qatar

A messy World Cup brimming with charms and strife is coming to Qatar


DOHA, Qatar – Since the inaugural World Cup 92 years ago in Uruguay, the quadrennial bonanza of its favorite sport on planet Earth has never found itself in such an unusual setting. Here’s the weirdest of the 22 World Cups so far, in the 18th World Cup country (counting one occasion split between two), with all the weird charms and apprehensions.

From the fifth 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 the Connecticut. From recent hosts Japan and South Korea (164 million people combined when staged in 2002), to Germany (82 million), South Africa (51 million), Brazil ( 202 million), to Russia (144 million), the World Cup came to a country of around 2.9 million people, the vast majority of whom are guest workers.

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In this small country, they will send 32 teams divided into eight groups to decide a winner over 29 days, plus 1.2 million fans expected, including those from the Arab world celebrating the first Arab World Cup, even those dancing Thursday evening around the magnificent Doha souk. They wedged into eight stadiums, none within a towering distance of the others, so it’s possible to look down a highway and spot two without moving your eyes.

“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 as they came from Sepp Blatter, who was president of soccer’s world governing body FIFA from 1998 to 2015, including in late 2010 when 22 FIFA voters chose Qatar over the states. States, South Korea, Japan and Australia. .

Plus, it’s November, which makes this World Cup a drastic outlier. From its origins in South America and Europe to the last edition in Russia four years ago, the World Cup has been a summer affair. Yet from the moment Blatter opened the envelope to pull out a card marked “QATAR” at a ceremony in 2010, a card now on display in the National Museum of Qatar, it seemed clear that such a demanding sport would never could not happen in the malevolent Persian air of summer. (or Arabian Gulf).

That meant this World Cup was moved to November here, with daytime temperatures generally in the 80s and breathable, balmy night air. It meant that this World Cup gave national leagues around the world a major nudge, such as Europe’s big five in England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France, which had to suspend play for a month. It meant the risk of injury or impaired fitness had increased, with most leagues turning until last weekend and the usual month of inactivity before the World Cup scrapped.

Washington Post sports reporter Steven Goff traveled to Doha, Qatar for his eighth World Cup before the tournament kicks off on November 20. (Video: Julie Yoon/The Washington Post)

That tight schedule found its climax earlier this month in Munich, when the rigors of a championship so close to a World Cup proved to snag Senegal star Sadio Mané, one of the best players in the world. A leg injury he sustained that night required the surgical reattachment of a tendon to a fibula, made his initial inclusion in the Senegal squad seem far-fetched and recently resulted in his crushing removal from the squad. ‘crew.

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Even though the World Cup arrived to the sound of the Muslim call to prayer, resonating across the metropolitan area, it sparked global squabbles over cultural mores. One example came on Friday when Qatar, where alcoholic drinks only circulate in certain hotels, reversed its earlier decision to allow the sale of beer in stadiums, long considered an essential ingredient of football in many other cultures.

Much more controversially, the country has been criticized for its human rights practices, including the treatment of guest workers, especially those whose construction work built this World Cup, and the criminalization of relationships homosexuals. “It’s ridiculous that the World Cup is here,” said Dutch coach Louis van Gaal. “FIFA says they want to develop football there. It’s bulls—. It’s about money, business interests.

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Qatar did not hesitate to respond. In a German newspaper earlier this month, Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani said: “It is ironic that this tone is set in Europe in countries that call themselves liberal democracies. Honestly, that sounds very arrogant and very racist.

And in a spontaneous, defiant and extended opening statement at his Saturday press conference here – the statement alone lasted nearly an hour – FIFA President Gianni Infantino defended the FIFA World Cup Qatar. “What we Europeans have been doing in the world for 3,000 years,” he said, “we should apologize for the next 3,000 years, before we start lecturing people.” He called it a “one-sided, moral lesson” and said: “It’s just hypocrisy.”

The lifestyle in Qatar couldn’t differ more from the lifestyle in Brazil, for example, whose festive fans provide an unfailing backdrop for the World Cup given the only country to have qualified all 22 times. .

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With all of the above, some chance seems possible in terms of football. The 32 national teams did not have the usual time to replenish as they gathered to play in eight groups of four, three matches each, with the top two from each group advancing to a 16-team knockout stage . The rush of it all could benefit some teams and hinder others.

The USA men’s World Cup team will face Wales, Iran and group favorites England at the 2022 World Cup group stage in Qatar. (Video: Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post)

It makes it plausible that it is here that the world breaks Europe’s recent stranglehold on the World Cup, which has yielded four different winners of the last four events – Italy, Spain, Germany, France – and 13 of 16 semi-finalists. of this period. . If that trend finally subsides, it may be thanks to tournament favorites and five-time winners Brazil trying to end a drought their picky fans find glaring: 20 years without a title and heartbreaking defeats against the Europeans. – France (quarter-finals 2006), the Netherlands (quarter-finals 2010), Germany (semi-finals 2014 in a haunted house 7-1 in Brazil) and Belgium (quarter-finals 2018). Brazil will bring an attack with Neymar, Richarlison, Vinicius Junior and considerable talent for beauty.

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If it’s not Brazil, then it could be Brazil’s neighbors to the south, Argentina, who, like Brazil, have gone 17 World Cup qualifying matches unbeaten.

France still have the cup from 2018 but are used to following highs with nadirs, while England have high hopes based on recent years but poor form lately, while Germany don’t has not been Germany in the last two major international tournaments and that Spain has gone from a great generation to a precocious one.

Speaking of generations, Belgium are bringing back their all-time best, semi-finalists last time out when perhaps a step beyond their maturation, while the Netherlands are returning after a painful absence in 2018. the same goes for the United States, a young team second in North America. hornbeam in Canada, emerging as one of the darlings of the fight against drought, included for the first time in 36 years.

The other darling, Wales, first appeared in ’64, when they made a quarter-final in 1958, losing 1-0 to Brazil and budding icon Pelé, then aged only 17 years old. Wales open against the United States on Monday, a day after home side Qatar opened the series against Ecuador as the host team much better than expected in the opener. envelope 12 years ago.

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All the while, two of the most famous people on the planet will bow out: Cristiano Ronaldo, the 37-year-old Portuguese; and Lionel Messi, the 35-year-old Argentinian and world-famous scoring magician.

Messi has a tormented relationship with the last four World Cups already hidden in his biography. He and Argentina reached a final in Brazil in 2014, losing 1-0 to Germany, and their line-up has quality beyond itself. “We have a very good group who are very enthusiastic, but we think we’ll take it bit by bit,” Messi told South American football’s governing body CONMEBOL in a recent interview. “We know World Cup groups aren’t easy.”

If he and they left in a way that would please a large part of the world, it might even overshadow the exceptional idea of ​​where it all happened.

World Cup in Qatar

Your questions, answers: The World Cup kicks off on November 20 in Qatar, around five months later than usual. Here’s everything you need to know about the quadrennial event.

Support for groups: The United States men’s national soccer team, led by coach Gregg Berhalter and star striker Christian Pulisic, have qualified for the 2022 World Cup, an improvement on their disastrous and unsuccessful 2018 campaign Here’s a look at how all the teams in each group rank.

Today’s worldview: Even if the World Cup is a few days away from the start, talk of a boycott only intensifies. Football fans have expressed contempt for Qatar’s autocratic monarchy, including for its alleged human rights abuses, crackdown on dissent, persecution of LGBTQ people and mistreatment of migrant workers.

The best of the best: More than 800 players, representing 32 countries and six continents, will gather in Qatar for four weeks of World Cup competition. These players likely promise a breakout tournament or hold the key to their team exceeding expectations.

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