The world’s most watched sporting event is here once again.
The FIFA World Cup kicks off this week in Qatar. Canada nabbed their place in the tournament for the first time since 1986 and are hoping to make a good impression before hosting the next edition of the tournament, along with Mexico and the United States, in 2026.
The build-up to this tournament has been overshadowed by many human rights violations and other issues arising from Qatar being the host. There have been many participating teams, players, ex-players and other media personnel who have openly criticized the decisions made by the hosts, with particular focus on the scheduling of the tournament due to injuries from condensed league schedules.
Here is everything you need to know before the start of the competition.
World Cup of Controversy
The public eye has been on this tournament since the day Qatar won the bid to host in 2010, and the soccer world was shocked when they were awarded the tournament over the likes of Australia, Japan and USA.
It’s been reported that Qatar bribed FIFA officials for the tournament, and former FIFA head Sep Blatter, who was charged with fraud in July 2022, recently said, “it was a mistake” that Qatar, a small country with no soccer heritage, was selected to host the biggest tournament in the sport.
The construction of stadiums, a new airport, hotels, roads and metro stations to facilitate these matches have resulted in over six thousand deaths in the last year, according to reports.
The Qatar government responded to the reports by saying the migrant deaths were part of the estimated deaths in the country, which include natural causes and COVID-19.
Ironically, Qatar won the bid because they made commitments to have stadiums and facilities ready in time to host in the summer of 2022. This never seemed like a feasible goal and we are now talking about human rights violations for a winter tournament.
Fans travelling to Qatar also face the issue of discrimination due to the laws of the nation. It is a World Cup that will unfortunately be riddled with negativity due to off-pitch events.
O Canada, go Canada
Canada secured their ticket to this World Cup by impressively topping their qualifying group ahead of Costa Rica, Mexico and USA. Les Rouges have been drawn in a tough Group F alongside World Cup 2018’s third-placed Belgium, 2018 finalists Croatia and African powerhouse Morocco.
The Canadians have a steep hill to climb against opposition like that; however, there is hope.
Canada plays a refreshing style of football thanks to their coach, John Herdman. He has the option of calling on an exciting crop of young players like Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David and Tajon Buchanan, all of whom are having great seasons at their respective soccer clubs. He also has Canada’s all-time top scorer, Cyle Larin, leading the attack.
There is a low expectation for the Canadians but that just might work in their favour. They are in an excellent position to cause an enormous upset early on in the tournament if they can alter the course of Group F.
The team has already qualified for the next World Cup as they are a host-nation, so there is absolutely nothing to lose for Herdman’s team.
Finally settling the GOAT debate?
The Greatest of All Time debate between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo has dominated football for two decades. For the first time in the World Cup, if they both manage to top their group and win their remaining matches, we could see Argentina vs Portugal in the final.
A spectacle for the ages but it could also be a dreamer’s paradise. There are many teams that stand in both teams’ way before getting there.
There are other players who will be looking to make their mark in potentially their final appearance at a World Cup. The likes of Neymar for Brazil, Luka Modric for Croatia and Eden Hazard for Belgium will be aiming at the same target.
The 2022 World Cup will be the last for players that fans recognize from previous years. The winner of this World Cup may be more crucial in the history of the sport than ever before. When it comes to Messi and Ronaldo, a World Cup trophy will put the debates to rest.
The end of European dominance
The last four World Cups have all been won by a European nation. Italy, Spain, Germany and France have all lifted the trophy since Brazil did in 2002. Three of those are a shadow of their former teams and Italy did not even qualify for this tournament. There could be a new region on top this year.
Brazil and Argentina are the two favourites to win the tournament. Brazil has one of the most talented teams in the competition in addition to their star, Neymar. The same can be said for Argentina and Lionel Messi.
There is a chance that both teams could meet in the semi-final or the final, depending on the results in the group stage. In either scenario, it would be a good look for the South American Confederation (CONMEBOL) to have their top two teams in the final four.
Looking at it from the other point-of-view, Europe has 13 of the 32 teams involved so they have the best odds to win, but this is soccer. The game is played on the field and not on the team sheet, so there are no easy games for anyone.