The Winter World Cup

July 10, 2022

What matters is that we get an entertaining tournament, which will last long in our memories.

The Winter World Cup

The FIFA World Cup is a tournament which brings together the entire globe, be it the sports-loving or the not-so-loving. If you ask an ordinary passer-by whether football amuses them, it is rather likely that they will say they only watch the World Cups.

Indeed, it is a fascinating contest. The top footballing nations compete for glory, club teammates become bitter rivals, passion is at its peak. Had it not been for the Qatari sunshine, we would be witnessing the exciting knockout stages of the 2022 World Cup as we speak.

Instead, to the disappointment of everyone, we must play the waiting game for another 134 days, after which the matches will at last kick-off.

Many eyebrows were raised when Qatar was initially announced as the host of the tournament, and it sparked a lot of controversies. However, looking at it from a broader perspective, the relatively easy access to Qatar for fans from across the globe, especially in the Middle East and Asia, means it may provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for such viewers to finally spectate the players they love in flesh.

With security assistance being provided by NATO, preparations are in full swing for the teams and supporters. On top of that, the stadiums prepared for the games are stellar. Lusail Stadium, a purpose-built arena for the world cup, has been given the nod to host the historic final. Located just 15km from the capital, and with a seating capacity of 80,000, Lusail is set to go into the history books. Once the games conclude, the stadium will be transformed into a community space to facilitate schools, cafes, health clinics and many more. History will also be made for referees, as for the first time in the Cup's history, women will conduct games, with Yamashita, Frappart, and Mukansanga being shortlisted for the matches.

One cannot deny that with such state-of-the-art arrangements, Qatar's "less talk, more action" strategy has truly achieved its purpose.

What makes this world cup dissimilar from its preceding tournaments is the high level of competition amongst the nations. That it will be held mid-season is something which could influence the outcome of the tournament.

In 2018, the insane squad depth of France meant they were the obvious candidates to lift the cup before the games even began. This time around, picking a winner is not a child's play due to the talent scattered across the nations.

Group E has already been given the infamous 'Group of Death' title as it contains two major candidates to lift the trophy, i.e., Germany and Spain. Placing two sharks in the same tank is not the wisest of ideas. However, whilst the Germans and Spaniards are expected to qualify for the knockouts, albeit one ahead of the other, they must be wary of the other two nations in the group: Japan and Costa Rica. The Japanese can never be underestimated. Costa Rica topped the 2014 'Group of Death' consisting of Uruguay, England, and Italy.

There are doubts about England, particularly after the 4-0 thrashing at the hands of the Hungarians last month. The two 'GOATs', Ronaldo and Messi, will also be leading their seemingly improved nations from last time, with Portugal consisting of premier league stars such as Fernandes, Dias, Silva, and Jota, and Argentina fresh off a Copa America triumph, and unbeaten in 33 games. Yet Portugal's miserable display and lack of chemistry in the Euro Cup may indicate there is room for improvement.

Belgium have been labelled the 'Dark Horses' almost every time yet to no avail. They have world-class attackers including Lukaku and the Hazard brothers, a midfield consisting of the experienced De Bruyne and the talented Tielemans, and arguably 2022's best goalkeeper in Thibaut Courtois. However, with a defence getting old and slow, and the lack of recent success, placing a bet on the Belgians may be costly. I say that only theoretically since betting in Qatar is illegal!

Nations such as Netherlands and Denmark have the capacity to reach far in the tournament provided they produce enthralling displays of brilliance, and as we saw with the Croatians in 2018, everybody loves an underdogs story.

With stupendous events come stupendous conspiracy theories and the one which pertains to us is 'The World Cup Champions Curse'. Let me give you some insight: In 1998, Didier Deschamps led France to world cup victory, yet they came crashing down in 2002, finishing bottom of their group. History repeated itself in 2010, with 2006 champions Italy leaving the cup early in the groups.

The same was the case with 2010 champions Spain in the 2014 Brazil games. In 2018, the champions Germany were eliminated by Son Heung-min and Korea. Those that fall for this conspiracy would be expecting 2018 champions France, with now manager Didier Deschamps, to go home early, yet the group they have been placed in seems like a piece of cake. A supercomputer under The Analyst's Model has prophesied France to lift the cup yet again with a 17.93% probability. One would not be surprised with this, considering the rather trouble-free route le fran├žais may have to the semis, compared to the other 'big dogs'.

Brazil are the supercomputer's second guess with a probability of 15.73%. The Brazilians have been in ruthless form and have a talent-stacked squad with names such as Neymar, Coutinho, Raphinha, veteran Thiago Silva, and the Bernabeu hero Vinicius Junior. However, with 20 long years between now and their last world cup triumph and Brazil's disappointing performances in big games such as the 2018 quarterfinal and last year's Copa America final, there is nothing certain.

Regardless of the outcome and which nation eventually ends up victorious, the entire football fan-base would be hoping that somehow, perhaps through a miracle, they get a knockout game between Argentina and Portugal, preferably in the final: a game which may finally settle the 'GOAT debate'? Just imagine it. Messi v Ronaldo. GOAT v GOAT. World Cup Final. Sold-out stadium. Football's most anticipated bout. Although such a game is certainly on the cards if both teams top their groups, my objective here is not to sell a dream too good to be true. What matters is that we get an entertaining tournament, which will last long in our memories. A Winter World Cup may seem unconventional, but we should not let that kill the spirit of what is 'The Beautiful Game'.

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The Winter World Cup