Football is considered the most famous team sport in the world and is even followed in countries that don’t have an international football team. The FIFA World Cup is one of the most prestigious tournaments in the world and is held every four years.

The 22nd edition will kick off tomorrow, on November 20th, 2022, in Qatar, making it the second time in history that an Asian country is hosting the mega event. It will also mark the debut of Qatar’s national team in the World Cup, and since they are the current Asian Champions besides being the host, they would be getting huge support from their home crowd.

The last time the World Cup was held in Asia was way back in 2002 when Japan and South Korea co-hosted the tournament, which was won by Brazil for the fifth and last time. Due to the intense heat in the Middle East, the tournament has moved to November/December from the traditional June/July calendar. Will that favour the teams or not, that would only be known once the mega event starts.

For the last four editions, only European teams have ended up winning the trophy — France in 2018, Germany in 2014, Spain in 2010, and Italy in 2006. This is the longest time that any South American nation has failed to get their hands on the trophy, but this time Brazil is considered the hot favourite to win. They are the number one team in the FIFA world rankings, followed by Belgium, the highest-seeded team in Europe.

Copa America champions Argentina are also looking for their third title, while defending champions France, along with former champions England, Germany and Spain are not to be taken lightly.

How the FIFA World Cup has evolved!

Illustration by Ziauddin
Illustration by Ziauddin

The inaugural FIFA World Cup was held in Uruguay in 1930 and started with 13 teams, including the host. From 1934 till 1978, each World Cup had 16 participants which were increased to 24 in 1982, and later to 32 in 1998. The FIFA World Cup 2022 will also feature the same format, but this would be the last time 32 teams would be lined up for the trophy since FIFA plans to increase the number of participants to 48 for the next edition.

The World Cup draw was held on April 1t, 2022, and divided the 32 qualified teams into eight groups of four teams each. The two top teams from each group would advance to the knockout stage, from which eight would proceed to the quarter-finals. Four winners would play in the two semi-finals and the finalists would clash on 18th December for the trophy at Lusail Stadium in Lusail City.

Compared to Asia’s two hosts, Europe has hosted the tournament on most occasions — eleven to be exact. Five times the host country belonged to South America, while North America had the honour to host the tournament four times. The FIFA World Cup was held in Africa once in 2010, and one hopes that it will return to the continent soon.

Eight stadiums to host 64 matches!

There are eight stadiums that will host the 64 matches over the next four weeks, seven of them being freshly built. The venues are Lusail Iconic Stadium in Lusail, Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah, Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, Khalifa International Stadium and Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan and Stadium 974 and Al Thumama Stadium in Doha. All venues are located within a 55-km radius of Qatar’s capital city of Doha, making it easily accessible to the spectators.

Except for the Khalifa International Stadium, operational since 1976, all stadiums have been constructed over the past three years. The cool-looking Stadium 974, with a capacity of 40,000 people, would be dismantled after the tournament is over. It’s named 974 because that is the number of shipping containers used to build it.

Al Bayt Stadium has a capacity of 60,000 people and its retractable roof would be the centre of attention. Set to host nine matches, Al Bayt will also stage the opening ceremony and the opening match between hosts Qatar and Ecuador on Sunday. Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan City was one of the grounds tested during the FIFA Arab Cup last year. Known as the ‘Diamond in the desert’, it has the capacity to accommodate 45,000 people at a time.

Among these stadiums, Lusail Iconic Stadium has the highest capacity, with about 80,000 spectators. It will host a total of 10 matches, including the final and the closing ceremony.

Will Qatar be able to emulate France’s heroics from 1998?

Since 1930, only six host nations have managed to win the coveted Jules Rimet trophy. What Uruguay did in the first FIFA World Cup in 1930, was emulated by Italy in 1934, England in 1966, Germany in 1974, Argentina in 1978, and France in 1998. In 1958, Sweden was unlucky to lose the final to Brazil in front of their home crowd, but Qatar will be happy to reach event the semis in their debut World Cup.

In 1998, France was the last host to win a World Cup when they beat the defending champions Brazil under the captaincy of Didier Deschamps. Incidentally, Deschamps was the manager of the French team that won the FIFA World Cup in 2018, making him the only individual to win the title both as a player and a manager.

Over 2500 goals have been scored in the 21 editions of FIFA World Cups — penalty shootout not included. If we take a look at the list of top scorers, German striker Miroslav Klose is leading it after scoring 16 goals. He managed to do so by scoring in the tournaments held between 2002 to 2014.

The record for most goals scored in a single FIFA World Cup is held by Frenchman Just Fontaine, who scored 13 goals in 1958.

Brazil has never missed a World Cup event!

Five-time champion Brazil is the only team that has qualified for each and every edition of the World Cup. Since they have won the event five times, they had to play five fewer qualifiers since the defending champion is given the easy way in, however, others haven’t been so lucky.

Former champions Italy didn’t qualify this time around, while Russia who hosted the 2018 World Cup was suspended from participating, due to the military incursion in neighbouring Ukraine. Teams like Egypt, Chile, Columbia and Peru also failed to make it to the final stage, especially Egypt because their omission means no Mo Salah at the mega event.

Players who have missed the bus!

Former champion Spain will travel to the World Cup without goalkeeper David De Gea, Sergio Ramos and Thiago Alcântara, who have all been left out of the national squad. England’s striker Tammy Abraham, Brazil’s forward Roberto Firmino, France’s left-back Ferland Mendy, and Germany’s centre-back Matt Hummels would be some of the big stars who will not be on their team’s trip to Qatar.

This may be the last chance for Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentina’s Lionel Messi to lift the trophy, something they have failed to do in four tries each. They will be appearing in the World Cup for the record fifth time, a record so far held by Germany’s Lothar Matthäus, and Mexico’s Antonio Carbajal and Rafael Márquez. For Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, this would be the fourth such tournament, while 34-year-old Karim Benzema might also be representing France for the third and last time in a World Cup.

The Real Madrid star who wasn’t part of the winning squad four years back had said that he would love to get his hand on the coveted trophy, again. Poland’s Robert Lewandowski would also be hoping to make his last World Cup memorable. The 34-year-old has been on fire in recent times and is Poland’s all-time highest goal scorer.

Players to watch out for

There are plenty of young players who might be able to set the ground on fire during the tournament. Among the new lot of legends, there is France’s forward Kylian Mbappé, who would be playing in his second World Cup. He was influential in France’s win against Croatia, with the last goal for his team in the final of the 2018 World Cup.

Brazil’s Neymar must also be kept in the same category because he has proved his mettle over time. An injury kept him out of the final matches of the FIFA World Cup in 2014, but his reputation precedes his name and he might want to make up for the lost opportunities.

England captain Harry Kane, who scored six goals in the 2018 edition of the FIFA World Cup, is on a rampage these days. He was part of the team that lost the semi-final in the 2018 FIFA World Cup that took place in Russia, but ended up winning the Golden Boot. He has never won a major trophy and this might be his chance.

Also playing his first World Cup, Spain’s Pedri would be a treat to watch. A favourite with Barca fans, he has the capacity to change the fate of the matches. Alphonso Davies could surely make his presence felt for Canada, who are returning to the tournament after 36 years. One of the best left-backs in the world, he can be a terror for the opposition.

Records are meant to be broken!

The last edition of the FIFA World Cup was watched by 3.5 billion people around the world and is regarded as the most-watched sports event, ever. Come 2022, and the 22nd edition of the FIFA World Cup is expected to be watched by five billion people around the world. With the world’s population touching eight billion, attaining a viewership that caters to all would be nothing short of a miracle.

Out of the 21 editions of the FIFA World Cups, only eight countries have won the event. Brazil with five trophies leads the race since they were crowned champions in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, and 2002. Next in line is Germany (1954, 1974, 1990, 2014) and Italy (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006) who have four titles to their names, and while Germany might have a shot at the fifth title this time, the Italians will have to wait for another four years.

Former champions Argentina (1978, 1986), Uruguay (1930, 1950), and France (1998, 2018) have won the title twice, whereas England (1966) and Spain (2010) have lifted the trophy just once. The record for the most finals without winning a title is held by the Netherlands, who were unlucky in 1974, 1978, and 2010, and they might be hoping to become champions this time around.

How Pakistan is part of the FIFA World Cup 2022

Pakistan’s football team might not be eligible to feature in the mega event as a participant, but their contribution is more than all the participants combined. The footballs used in the tournament are manufactured in Sialkot, Pakistan, which is known throughout the world for its world-class sports equipment.

Named Al-Rihla, which means ‘the journey’ in Arabic, the football is inspired by the culture, architecture, iconic boats and flag of Qatar. As many as 3,000 such balls would be used in the FIFA World Cup, which is nothing short of a proud moment for every Pakistani.

Published in Dawn, Young World, November 19th, 2022

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