1 – Protests
This World Cup has been surrounded by controversy since Qatar won the bid in December 2010.
Allegations of FIFA officials being bribed for hosting rights, reports of over 6,500 migrant workers dying while building infrastructure, and the country’s stance on LGBTQ+ rights has meant a lot of the build-up has focused on matters off the pitch.
Captains from eight European nations will be wearing ‘One Love’ rainbow armbands in support of anti-discrimination, whether FIFA sanction it or not. Australia released a video last month criticising Qatar for mistreating migrant workers and called for the decriminalisation of same-sex relationships, becoming the first competing side to speak out on such issues. It will be fascinating to see if others follow suit and stage similar protests in the weeks ahead.
2 – FIFA’s desperation to ‘focus on the football’
Last week, FIFA president Gianni Infantino sent an email to all competing nations, insisting they should now ‘focus on the football’. Desperate to avoid further controversy, the statement failed to mention any of the controversies surrounding the tournament, including the safety of visiting LGBTQ+ supporters and Qatar’s mistreatment of migrant workers.
FIFA’s statement read: “We are aware there are many difficulties of a political nature all around the world. But please do not allow football to be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists.” It appears any nation planning to speak out on the controversies surrounding this World Cup certainly won’t have the support of world football’s governing body.
3 – History
Qatar will be the smallest nation to ever host a World Cup, which is also the first to take place in the Middle East. Qatar beat the likes of the United States, South Korea and Australia for the right to host the tournament in 2010, although some FIFA officials were reportedly bribed to support Qatar’s bid.
4 – Migrant workers
It’s impossible to speak about this World Cup without mentioning the tens of thousands of migrant workers who built Qatar’s stadiums, hotels, and airports from scratch. The country has been highly criticised for its treatment of these workers, many of whom come from countries like India, the Philippines and Bangladesh. Last year, Human Rights Watch reported some workers faced “months of unpaid wages” and “illegal wage deductions”.
The Guardian reported that 6,500 migrant workers had died since 2010, a figure Qatar said was misleading, saying many from that number could have died from old age or natural causes. There are also reports of “persistent and widespread labour rights violations”, and while several European nations are pushing FIFA to create a compensation fund for workers and their families, Qatar rejected the idea, labelling it as a “publicity stunt” .
5 – Injury lists
The injury list for this World Cup is growing longer by the day. A normal tournament beginning in June would give players a month to six weeks to rest and recover before the group stage.
This isn’t a normal World Cup though. For example, the final Premier League fixtures take place tomorrow, just seven days before the tournament’s opening fixture.
Reigning champions France are missing Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, England will be without wing-backs Ben Chilwell and Reece James, while the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Sadio Mane are in an anxious race against time to be fit.
6 – Belgium
The Red Devils have high hopes for Qatar, and face Canada, Croatia and Morocco in Group F. Ranked second in the world, Belgium defeated five-time winners Brazil to reach the semi-final at Russia 2018, where they were beaten by eventual winners France. Lukaku was selected but faces a race against time to overcome a hamstring issue, while the form of Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard will be key to their chances too.
Roberto Martinez usually operates in a 3-4-2-1 system, which worked a treat in qualifying as they hit 25 goals in eight games.
7 – Temperatures
It is also the first World Cup to be held during November and December. FIFA confirmed five years after Qatar won the bid that the tournament had to be played in winter, as leagues across the world made changes to their fixture calendars. The temperature is set to average 29C during the daytime, and although all stadiums are air-conditioned, the heat will no doubt be a challenge for many teams as well as visiting supporters.
8 – Wealth
Qatar’s oil and gas reserves have made the country incredibly rich in just a few short decades. Roughly €230 billion has reportedly been spent on infrastructure projects since the bid was awarded in 2010. Qatar reportedly spent around €200 million on their winning bid, a gargantuan figure when compared to England’s 2018 bid of €24 million, or the United States’ 2022 bid of €5 million. While most eyes will be on the action on the pitch, Qatar’s lavish stadiums, hotels and airports will also be on show, as the world’s attention descends on the nation.
9 – Shipping containers
Pictures from one fan village emerged this week displaying some of the accommodation available at the tournament.
Organisers have put beds inside 30,000 rooms resembling shipping containers in a scramble to cater for the 1.2 million visiting fans.
These rooms will reportedly set you back €200 a night, but don’t appear to have any air conditioning, which will be a concern in the sweltering heat of Qatar.
10 – New stadiums
Shipping containers won’t just be used for accommodation, they have also been used for one of the seven new stadiums Qatar has built for the tournament. One ground called Stadium 974 is a reference to the number of containers used in its construction, which will be dismantled after the World Cup.
All eight are within 21 miles of the capital Doha, but only one will be used for a team afterwards – the 45,416-capacity Khalifa International stadium, – which has been Qatar’s home since 1976. The World Cup final will be held at the 80,000-capacity Lusail Stadium in Doha on December 18.
11 – Brazil
It’s been 20 years since their last triumph but Brazil are tipped for glory and boast one of the strongest squads in the tournament, as captain Thiago Silva looks to lead his side to a sixth World Cup.
Brazil have been dumped out by European opposition in the knockout phase at every tournament since 2002, including the humiliating 7-1 home defeat to Germany in 2014. The 2019 Copa America winners were unbeaten in qualifying and will need stars like Vinicius Jr and Alisson on top form if they are to triumph, while key man Neymar is two behind Pele’s record of 77 goals for Brazil.
12 – Semi-automated offside
While this is the second World Cup to have Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in use, it is the first to have a new support system in place for officials to make decisions during games.
Previously, VAR only had TV cameras available to base decisions on. Twelve tracking cameras will be fixed to the stadiums’ ceilings, and 29 data points will be used to track the ball and players to assist with offside decisions.
13 – Golden Boot race
Past Golden Boot winners have included Ronaldo (2002), Thomas Muller (2010) and Gary Lineker (1986). England captain Harry Kane took home the award at Russia 2018 and is a favourite to make it back-to-back wins. He is also on the cusp of becoming England’s record goal scorer, as he’s currently just two behind Wayne Rooney’s 53.
France forward Kylian Mbappe is in the running, with 18 goals so far this season at PSG. Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema is tipped for it too after hitting 44 goals in 46 games last season, while Brazil’s Neymar netted eight goals in Brazil’s qualifying run.
14 – David Beckham
The former England captain has been slammed in recent months for taking up a paid ambassador role for the Qatar World Cup. Last year, Beckham accepted a deal worth a reported €170 million, with several LGBTQ+ groups blasting his decision because Qatar criminalises same-sex relationships under Islamic Sharia law.
Beckham, who has described himself in the past as a “gay icon”, has represented England at three World Cups but has yet to comment on the controversies surrounding the tournament.
15 – Wales
Featuring at their first World Cup since 1958, Wales begin their group against the USA on November 21.
Robert Page’s team produced a huge shock six years ago when they reached the semi-final of Euro 2016 and defeated the likes of Belgium.
Ireland ended their qualification hopes for Russia 2018, before the Dragons made it to the last 16 of Euro 2020 where they lost to Denmark. Gareth Bale and his side ended their 64-year wait for a World Cup appearance defeating Ukraine in a play-off last June and will hope to bring some of their Euro 2016 form to Qatar.
16 – The hosts
Qatar are the AFC champions and qualified for the tournament as the host nation. Irish fans will be familiar with the Maroon from their two recent friendly clashes. Callum Robinson hit a hat-trick as Stephen Kenny’s side defeated Qatar 4-0 at the Aviva in October of last year, before the sides drew 1-1 last March. The hosts come into the tournament after four successive friendly wins, and star forward Almoez Ali is one to watch. They face Ecuador in the opening game, before clashes with Senegal and the Netherlands.
17 – An underdog
Seven weeks after defeating Egypt in the AFCON final, Senegal overcame the Pharaohs again in the World Cup play-off, booking their ticket to Qatar with a penalty shoot-out win. Bayern Munich’s Mane is a huge doubt after picking up a calf injury last Tuesday, while Chelsea pair Edouard Mendy and Kalidou Koulibaly are key figures in defence. Senegal’s best finish came in 2002 when they reached the quarter-finals, but may produce a surprise and get out of Group A.
18 – England
After reaching the semi-final in 2018, Gareth Southgate’s side will be looking to go one step further and progress to the decider on December 18.
The Three Lions endured a torrid Nations League campaign this year, finishing bottom of their group with zero wins in six. England breezed through their World Cup qualifying group though, winning eight from 10. They are favourites to make it out of Group B, which includes Iran, USA, and neighbours Wales, and could face Senegal in the last 16.
19 – Visiting supporters
It’s going to be a very different World Cup experience for the 1.2 million visitors. It is illegal to publicly consume alcohol in Qatar, and drinking will be severely restricted to fan zones and other ‘select areas’ around stadiums.
Fans will have to be careful of how they dress – public displays of affection could lead to arrest, while homosexual behaviour is also illegal in the country.
20 – Paid publicity
Up to 1,600 supporters are set to receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the tournament, in return for sharing positive content about Qatar, performing at the opening ceremony, and reporting any criticism that appears on social media.
Fans from all 32 nations will also been given free tickets and will essentially act as ambassadors for Qatar.
21 – Ronaldo and Messi
The World Cup still remains the elusive prize for both, with this possibly the final chance for either to triumph on the world stage. Cristiano Ronaldo is a man for the big occasion and could become the first player to score at five different World Cups. Lionel Messi is also featuring at his fifth finals, and with Argentina unbeaten in their last 35 games, they are in a good place to achieve a first World Cup since 1986.
22 – Young stars
Previous winners of the World Cup Young Player award include Pele (1958) and Michael Owen (1998) and there are plenty of young stars in contention this year, including Jude Bellingham, Pedri and Eduardo Camavinga.