FIFA has been taking its premier sporting contest to new heartlands and opening up the World Cup to a wider audience for some time now. In 2002 Japan and South Korea were the beneficiaries of this initiative, becoming the first Asian nations to co-host the historic competition. Then it went to South Africa in 2010 to mark its arrival to a fifth continent. Now the 2022 tournament is coming to the Middle East for the first time.
The region is one of the fastest growing areas for football on the planet, and Qatar, the host nation, is ready to welcome the world for 28 days of riveting action. Without any doubt, this is the most eagerly anticipated World Cup of all time, and the good news is it is just around the corner. It all kicks off on November 20 with Qatar taking on Ecuador in the first match.
The usual suspects — Brazil, Germany, England and France — will all be there; however, four-time champions Italy failed to qualify. Not that the Azzurri will be missed, what with so many sub-plots to look forward to. For instance, this is the last chance for veteran superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to lift the famous trophy. Both are well into the twilight of their careers and cannot play at the top level forever. They will represent Argentina and Portugal respectively one last time and will want to go out on a high.
Messi, 35, gives the Argentinians, who have failed to win it since the days of the late great Diego Maradona, a real chance. They came close in 2014 but lost to Germany in the final. Ronaldo, the leading scorer in international football, has not even played in a World Cup final. The 37-year-old has lost none of his sharpness in front of goal and is still a serious threat.
Brazil are ranked No. 1 in the FIFA rankings, and with the likes of Neymar, Vinicius Junior and Richarlison, they have the firepower to go all the way. It would be their first triumph in 20 years, but defending champions France will believe they can retain the trophy. They have a terrific depth to their squad, and with Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema leading the line, they can score goals for fun.
England made it to the semifinals in 2018, and coach Gareth Southgate has a fine blend of youth and experience at his disposal, but much will depend on Harry Kane if they are to go one better this time around.
Due to the shorter duration of the tournament — which takes place in the middle of many countries’ domestic seasons — there will be four games played back-to-back per day. It will be a feast of football; there are eight groups comprising four teams, with the top two going into the 16-team knockout stage. There will be 64 matches in total, and the final will take place on December 18.
Who will win? Can Brazil be champions for a sixth time, or is England’s name on the cup? You can never rule out the Germans, but it might be time for a dark horse to shine… All will be revealed when the greatest show on earth gets underway in just three months.