world cup: FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar: Let the games begin!


It’s in the middle of the desert. It’s a place where human rights suck. It’s a country that has a team that wouldn’t have played in this World Cup weren’t it for Fifa being paid a pile of stash as ‘capitation fees’ so that their team could play. They don’t have beer in the stadium.

And then, in the thick of all those groans and complaints, the ball starts rolling and everything else goes into the sidelines.

Thirty-two teams kick off this week starting today to inch, tackle, slide, dribble and pass their way into the increasingly deeper end of the pool of the 22nd Fifa World Cup. As usual, there are the minnows, the dark horses, the favourites. In a world where footballers are far more recognized these days by their club colours, here in Qatar – a nation state slightly larger than Tripura and considerably smaller than Nagaland – once again, most of the world’s finest footballers (sorry, players from Italy who didn ‘t make it to the finals) will be playing in their national colors as otherwise motley crews turned into fighting units.

Take one of the favorites to lift the Cup: Brazil. The last couple of editions, the Seleção was really Neymar of Barcelona and ten other players, and then Neymar of Paris Saint-Germain and ten other players. This time things are different. Manager Tite is also betting on what he calls ‘perninhas rapidas’ – fast little legs – Raphinha (Barcelona), Antony (Manchester United), Vinicius Jr (Real Madrid), Rodrygo (Real Madrid) and Gabriel Martinelli (Arsenal). Like Tite, the punters are also betting on these Boys of Brazil. And, of course, Argentina. Or should one say Leo Messi and His Last Chance Band. Argentina under manager Lionel Scaloni has been doing what every Argentina fan has not – underplaying this team’s capabilities. Along with Messi and Angel Di Maria, the Albiceleste Dybala have a powerful machine in the likes of forwards Paulo and Angel Correa, midfielders Leandro Paredes and Enzo Fernandez. But they will be under pressure – for you know what.

With Germany not on the ascendant, fans of the Die Mannschaft will be hoping it’s not Götterdämmerung — twilight of the gods – too soon.

France is that strange Gallic thing this year – a mixture of dark horse and favourite. The fact that there is no Paul Pogba has already been posted on the wall by skipper Olivier Giroud. N’Golo Kante is also out because of injury. So it now much depends on the bullish bulwark of Kylian Mbappe and the newbies William Saliba and Aurelien Tchouamen to do what Karim Benzema and Antoine Griezmann would certainly do – and did when France lifted the World Cup in 2018 – if they were four years younger.

But the Cup that spilleth over is as much about the intangibles – us, the watchers, supporters and fans, whether at the stadiums in Qatar or in front of screens in whichever part of the world we are.

On Saturday, Fifa president Gianni Infantino tut-tutted allegations of paid fans being trotted out in Qatar before Sunday. ‘This is racism, this is pure racism. Why can’t a fan who looks like an Indian and not English, support a team that is English or Spanish or French?’ You bet your top Qatari dollar, Signor Infantino.

For a whole lot of people here in India (current Fifa ranking 106th to Qatar’s 50th), we will cheer on – well, many of us, at any rate – for the next one month with as much passion and decibels as if we had ‘ our’ lads vying on the pitches in Qatar. So what if we don’t have the same passports as the teams we’ll go bonkers over the next few weeks? We’ll be wearing their jerseys, for at least a month. Let the games begin!

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PARTICIPANTS AND THEIR HISTORY

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