The World Cup will start in Qatar

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DOHA, Qatar — Since the first World Cup 92 years ago in Uruguay, the quadrennial bonanza of your favorite sport on Planet Earth has never found itself in such an unusual setting. Here comes the strangest of the 22 World Cups to date, in the country of the 18th World Cup (counting one occasion shared between two), with all the strange charms and misgivings.

From the fifth largest country in the world (Brazil) in 2014, to the largest country in the world (Russia) in 2018, the World Cup moves to the rich and small 164th largest, Qatar, a country slightly smaller than Connecticut. From recent hosts Japan and South Korea (a combined 164 million people when they performed in 2002), to Germany (82 million), South Africa (51 million), Brazil (202 million), Russia (144 million), the The World Cup has reached a nation of around 2.9 million, the vast majority of them guest workers.

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On this small land they will shoe 32 teams into eight groups to decide a winner in 29 days, plus 1.2 million anticipated fans, including those from the Arab world celebrating the first Arab World Cup, even those dancing on Thursday night in the beautiful souq of Doha. . They have entered eight stadiums, none within a commanding distance of another, so that it is possible to look from a road and spot two of them without moving your eyes.

“It is too small a country,” an 86-year-old Swiss told a Swiss newspaper earlier this month. “Football and the World Cup are too big for that.” The comments sounded strange because they came from Sepp Blatter, who served as president of FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, from 1998 to 2015, including in late 2010, when 22 FIFA voters chose Qatar over the United States. United 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 most recent edition in Russia four years ago, the World Cup has been a summer event. Yet from the moment Blatter opened the envelope to produce a card marked “QATAR” at a 2010 ceremony, a card now on view at Qatar’s national museum, it seemed clear that such a demanding sport could not happen. in the malevolent summer air of the Persians. Gulf (or Arabian).

That meant this World Cup was shifted to November here, with daytime temperatures typically in the 80s and sweet, breathable night air. That meant that this World Cup gave a hard nudge to the world’s national leagues, such as Europe’s big five in England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France, who had to suspend play for a month. That meant the chances of injury or fitness issues increased, with most leagues running until last weekend and the usual inactive month leading up to the World Cup eliminated.

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

That tight schedule met its hardest pain earlier this month in Munich, when the rigors of the league so close to a World Cup took its toll on Senegalese star Sadio Mané, one of the best players in the world. A leg injury sustained that night required surgical reinsertion of a tendon in a fibula, made his initial inclusion in the Senegal squad seem overblown and recently culminated in his crushing elimination from the team.

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Even as the World Cup came amid the sound of the Muslim call to prayer, echoing through the metropolitan area, it has sparked global disputes over cultural mores. An epitome occurred on Friday when Qatar, where alcoholic beverages do not flow except in certain hotels, reversed its earlier decision to allow the sale of beer in stadiums, long considered an essential ingredient of soccer in many other cultures.

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

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Qatar has not shied away from the reply. Earlier this month, Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani told a German newspaper: “It is ironic when this tone is applied in Europe in countries that call themselves liberal democracies. It honestly sounds very arrogant and very racist.”

And in a spontaneous, defiant and drawn-out opening statement at his Saturday press conference here (the statement lasted almost an hour), FIFA President Gianni Infantino defended the World Cup in Qatar. “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 lecturing people.” He called it “one-sided, moral lecturing” and said, “It’s just hypocrisy.”

The way of life in Qatar couldn’t be more different from, say, the way of life in Brazil, whose festive fans are a surefire backdrop to the World Cup as it’s the only country to qualify all 22 times.

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With all of the above hanging around, a certain randomness seems possible when it comes to soccer. The 32 national teams have been missing their usual time to get back together, as they meet again to play in eight groups of four, three games 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 United States men’s World Cup team will face Wales, Iran and group favorite England in the 2022 World Cup group stage in Qatar. (Video: Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post)

That makes it plausible that this is where the world will break Europe’s recent World Cup dominance, which has produced four different winners from the last four events (Italy, Spain, Germany, France) and 13 of the 16 semifinalists in that span. . If that trend finally abates, it could be by dint of Brazil, the tournament favorite and five-time winner trying to end a drought that its fussy fans consider appalling: 20 years without a title and heartbreaking losses to Europeans: France (quarter-finals). end of 2006). , Netherlands (2010 quarterfinal), Germany (2014 semifinal in a 7-1 rout at a haunted house in Brazil) and Belgium (2018 quarterfinal). Brazil will bring an attack with Neymar, Richarlison, Vinicius Junior and a knack for considerable beauty.

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If not Brazil, then it could be Brazil’s friendly neighbor to the south, Argentina, which, like Brazil, went through 17 World Cup qualifiers without defeat.

France still have the 2018 cup but have a habit of following peaks with nadirs while England have high hopes based on recent years but in poor form lately while Germany have not been Germany in the last two major international tournaments and Spain has gone from a great generation to a precocious one.

Speaking of generations, Belgium bring back their best ever, semi-finalists last time though possibly a little past their maturity, while the Netherlands return after a painful absence in 2018. The same goes for the USA, a young team second in North America. charm to Canada, which appears as one of the darlings of the drought, included for the first time in 36 years.

Other favourites, Wales, first appear in ’64, when they played creditably in the quarter-finals in 1958, losing 1-0 to Brazil and budding icon Pele, then just 17. Wales open Monday against the United States, one A day later, home team Qatar open the entire pack of games against Ecuador as the host team much better than anticipated when the envelope was opened 12 years ago.

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Meanwhile, two of the most famous people on the planet will retire: Cristiano Ronaldo, the 37-year-old Portuguese; and Lionel Messi, the 35-year-old Argentinian and goal-scoring wizard celebrated around the world.

Messi has a tormented relationship with the past four World Cups already saved in his biography. He and Argentina reached a final in Brazil in 2014, losing 1-0 to Germany, and his roster has quality beyond him. “We have a very nice group that is really looking forward to it, but we plan to go little by little,” Messi told CONMEBOL, South American soccer’s governing body, in a recent interview. “We know that the World Cup groups are not easy.”

If he and they rode in a way that would please much of the world, it might even eclipse the rare idea of ​​where it all took place.

World Cup in Qatar

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

Group guide: The US men’s soccer team, led by coach Gregg Berhalter and star forward Christian Pulisic, qualified for the 2022 World Cup, an improvement over their disastrous and failed 2018 campaign. Here’s one Closer look at how all the teams in each group compare.

Today’s worldview: Even though the World Cup is days away from starting, talk of boycotts is only getting louder. Soccer fan protesters have expressed their disdain for Qatar’s autocratic monarchy, including 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 are likely to promise a great tournament or hold the key to your team exceeding expectations.

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