DOHA: The 2022 World Cup in Qatar will get under way on Sunday with footballers from across the planet hoping for a shot at global glory in the Middle East.
In total, 32 countries will compete for the coveted trophy that symbolises supremacy in the sport called ‘The Beautiful Game’ by legends like Pele and numerous fans. Defending champion France, after emerging victorious in 2018, will again be among the favourites, but many nations have their sights set on lifting the trophy on December 18.
South American powerhouse Brazil is the eternal favourite at the World Cup. The five-time winner currently boasts strength in depth with the likes of Neymar, Vinicius Junior and Alisson at its disposal. However, it has not savoured World Cup glory since 2002.
Head coach Tite has already announced that he would step down after the tournament and he – along with 216 million football-mad Brazilians – would not be satisfied with anything less than the trophy. Meanwhile, Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’ makes it a contender.
Manager Roberto Martinez, now in his seventh year as head coach of the national team, favours a 3-4-2-1 formation with Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard being the creative forces behind striker Romelu Lukaku. In defence, Belgium is heavily reliant on the veteran duo of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, who play in front of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
Coached by Luis Enrique, the 2010 champion Spain qualified for Qatar 2022 after fighting past teams like Sweden and Greece. Forward Alvaro Morata is almost certain to start and his record of 27 goals from 57 international appearances is impressive. With Gerard Moreno struggling for fitness, Spain’s options in attack are limited. However, the team is relying on playing total football and is ready to take any opponent in its stride.
In Germany, former Bayern Munich head coach Hansi Flick has adapted well after replacing Joachim Low, and the return of Thomas Muller to the fold has given the team a lot of experience. Led by Lionel Messi, two-time champion Argentina could face obstacles in the form of Brazil, France and England as it is determined to end a 36-year drought.
Lionel Scaloni’s side is undefeated in 36 games, a sequence that includes the 2021 Copa America final victory over Brazil. It is just one match shy of the record for the longest run of international matches without defeat, currently held by Italy. Apart from the obvious choices, the injury-ravaged France, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, Harry Kane’s England and 2018 runner-up Croatia will be among the challengers.
Double standard behind World Cup critics: Infantino
DOHA: The FIFA president Gianni Infantino targeted European critics of World Cup host Qatar on Saturday and suggested a moral double standard in his home continent. Infantino listed Europe’s problems on the eve of Qatar kicking off its home tournament, which has been dogged for years by criticism of the emirate’s record on human rights and treatment of migrant workers who built the stadiums. “What we Europeans have been doing for the past 3,000 years, we should be apologising for the next 3,000 years before we start giving moral lessons to people,” Infantino said to international media. He added that Qatar and the capital city Doha would be ready to host the “best World Cup ever”. “Today, I feel Qatari,” Infantino said. “Today, I feel Arab. Today, I feel African. Today, I feel gay. Today, I feel a migrant worker.” Migrant labourers who built Qatar’s World Cup stadiums often worked long hours under harsh conditions and were subjected to discrimination, wage theft and other abuses as their employers evaded accountability, the London-based rights group Equidem said in a 75-page report released earlier this month.