Time to get the ball rolling on a ‘World Cup like no other’

It’s an understatement to say that Qatar 2022 will be a “World Cup like no other”.

The showpiece 64-game FIFA tournament has attracted controversy from the moment it was awarded to the small Gulf Arab nation in 2010, and little has changed since.

On the eve of the draw in March, Norwegian FA president Lise Klaveness was scathing of the tournament being “awarded by FIFA in unacceptable ways with unacceptable consequences”.

Even former FIFA president Sepp Blatter called awarding Qatar the tournament ‘‘a mistake’’.

Then, with little more than two days to go, the Qatari organisers shocked fans and sponsors by reversing an agreement to allow alcohol for sale at the stadiums.

But from the early hours of Monday, November 21 (AEDT) when the host nation takes on Ecuador in the first of 64 matches, it will be game on – with more than five billion people expected to watch the month-long cavalcade of football.

Australia, which is ranked 38th in the latest FIFA rankings, is among the 32 nations to have qualified and will play in Group D  against Denmark (ranked 10th), reigning champions France (4th) and Tunisia (30th).

Once again the Socceroos will be entering the tournament with low expectations of progressing past the group stage.

But it’s a position that coach Graham Arnold is all too familiar with, particularly given the team qualified via playoffs in Doha against UAE and Peru.

On the upside the Socceroos have an impressive record in Qatar since 2008 with 10 wins, three draws and just two losses from 15 matches – the last match highlighted by the penalty shootout heroics of ‘Grey Wiggle’ goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne against Peru.

The Socceroos start their campaign in Al Janoub Stadium on Wednesday, November 23 at 6am (AEDT) against France.

Arnold’s side then faces Tunisia on Saturday, November 26 at 9pm before meeting Denmark at 2am on Thursday, December 1.

The top two nations in each of the eight groups advance to the knockout stages, which begin on December 4.


Who is expected to win?

Five-time winner Brazil enters the tournament as favourite, but it will face stiff opposition from arch rivals and Copa America champions Argentina, led by Lionel Messi.

Both sides remained unbeaten during the CONMEBOL qualifying campaign, which is no small feat in the tough South American group.

Reigning champion France leads the European charge, though it has been hit hard by injuries to key players including Paul Pogba – providing a glimmer of hope to Australia.

England, Spain and Belgium are also staking claims for the ultimate prize in world football, and Germany can never be underestimated.

South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Iran will join Australia in flying the flag for the Asian confederation.

There’s unfortunately bad news for African champions Senegal, with star striker Sadio Mane ruled out due to injury. Senegal is on a quest to become the first African nation to win the World Cup, while Mexico, Canada, United States and Costa Rica will represent the hopes of the CONCACAF region.

Controversial host

The smallest nation ever to host the finals, Qatar had never qualified for the World Cup before making it into the final 32 for 2022 as host nation. Temperatures approach 50 degrees in the northern summer (when the tournament is usually held), with many thinking this would render Qatar unsuitable to host the event – even with the air-conditioned stadiums it would build.

But an unprecedented switch to the northern winter, and a restructuring of the European seasons, eased some of the commotion.

Off field, Human Rights Watch has been vocal about Kafala (the sponsorship-based employment system for migrant workers).

It is alleged more than 6500 workers from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka – a figure compiled from government sources – have died in Qatar since the tournament was awarded, with 37 deaths directly linked to construction of the eight stadiums. Organisers deny this figure is accurate.

That’s not to mention the airport expansion, hotels and roads as part of the estimated $US220 billion ($327 billion) infrastructure cost required to welcome about 1.5 million visitors.

“FIFA granted Qatar the games even though it had and has serious human rights problems. FIFA did no human rights due diligence and set no conditions about protections for migrant workers,” HRW reported.

“Nor were protections required for journalists, women, LGBTQ+ people, athletes or fans, despite the shameful history of sportswashing and horrific abuses when global sporting events were handled by other authoritarian governments such as China and Russia.”

Thankfully, the tide is turning.

David Beckham, the $267 million face of the World Cup, has come under fire for promoting Qatar as “perfect” and several captains of European nations are hoping to play their part by wearing a rainbow heart armband as part of the One Love campaign.

Also on the plus side, six female referees will officiate at the tournament.

And Qatar offers fans the chance to watch more than one match each day during the group stages – with the longest distance between stadiums just 75 kilometres.

Money no object

Building seven stadiums and rebuilding another form a major part of the estimated $327 billion cost of staging the tournament.

The final figure is likely to be more than 40 times the outlay of South Africa when it staged the tournament in 2010.

In line with the tournament's goal of sustainability, many of the 40,000-capacity stadiums – Al Bayt Stadium (60,000), Khalifa International Stadium, Al Thumama Stadium, Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, Lusail Stadium (80,000), Stadium 974, Education City Stadium and Al Janoub Stadium – will have stands dismantled (to reduce capacity), then repurposed into shopping centres or community health centres, or in the case of Stadium 974 completely reassembled and sent to nations with less-developed facilities.

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