Qatar 2022 is happening: a horrifying but irresistible prospect | World Cup 2022

AAnd now, finally, some football. For much of the 12 years since Sepp Blatter’s groping fingers tore open an envelope containing a word and a thousand questions, the 2022 World Cup may have existed in our minds as little more than a surreal abstraction. . A computer-generated simulation. A Philip K Dick infused vision of a future that may never come true; it could even be avoided one way or another if we made the right choices. But the time for daydreaming and denial is over. It is happening. Matty Cash is going to Qatar, and to a greater or lesser extent we are all going with him.

Why? How? Why here? Why now? And – frankly – what is it? Some of the most intelligible responses to a project that, since its filthy cynical inception, has seemed like a giant leap towards a sunburned unknown. This is not the first World Cup to take place in the shadow of totalitarianism. It is not the first to be awarded under dubious premises, nor the first to be built at a ruinous cost to the public purse and the planet. But in many other ways, it’s unlike anything the sport has ever seen before.

Of course, you didn’t choose that. Neither the players nor the coaches. A winter World Cup in a small desert state with no footballing heritage and a litany of human rights abuses to its name was instead thrust upon us by the 22-man Fifa executive committee, three of whom are now dead. There is perhaps a certain dark irony in the fact that the survival rate of the people who awarded the World Cup was even lower than that of the people who built it. But the very existence of this tournament is a reminder of where the power has always resided in the sport. You are of course welcome to introduce yourself, connect and enjoy. But this show is not yours and never was.

So perhaps the first thing we can do is free ourselves from the idea that whatever happens on the ground in the next month can ever redeem or mitigate its colossal moral expenditure. Football likes to weave this selfish thread around itself: the idea that, whether through noble escape, shared joy or athletic beauty, it somehow serves to make the world a better place. But in this case of Qatar 2022, football has made the world noticeably and noticeably worse. He literally killed people. How you feel about it is entirely up to you. But the least we owe to the victims of this World Cup is our present memory and our future vigilance.

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Qatar: beyond football

Spectacle

It’s a World Cup like no other. For the past 12 years, the Guardian has reported on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is collected on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football homepage for those who want to dig deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

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Almost inevitably, very little of this human waste will affect the show itself. Those of you watching on TV will encounter much of the same curated, star-studded, heavily branded, tournament-flavored stuff you know and love. For those involved, Qatar will be experienced much the same as anywhere else: through the windows of a bus, on a familiar treadmill from hotel room to locker room to swimming pool and pitch. training, by the reassuring and stateless smell of fresh paint on temporary plasterboard. Heat can be a factor. Lack of atmosphere may be a factor. Fatigue and shortened prep time will definitely be a factor. So, what kind of tournament can we expect?

The temptation is to focus on the stars, to weight our analysis towards familiar names. Kylian Mbappé and Robert Lewandowski, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Kevin De Bruyne and Vinícius Júnior, Sadio Mané and Gareth Bale. And individual brilliance will certainly have a role to play in this tournament, especially in the latter stages where the margins are at their best.

But overall, it’s cohesive teams rather than large sets of players – or even great coaches – that tend to go deep at World Cups: teams with a defined style of play, a collective understanding and a sense of their own momentum. Recall that a ruthlessly drilled Russia and a baggy Brazil both did equally well at the last World Cup; let’s also remember that Croatia did better than both. Star quality can raise expectations and sometimes push you over the line. But that is never enough on its own.

Dutch coach Louis van Gaal during his first training session in Qatar ahead of the start of the 2022 World Cup final.
Louis van Gaal is back in charge of the Netherlands, which he led to the semi-finals in 2014. Photograph: John Sibley/Reuters

Perhaps the most interesting distinction to make is between teams with a distinct identity based on possession and high pressing, and those who, in difficult times, will fall back on the tournament classics of counter-attacking, kicking set foot and individual inspiration. In the first group: the mercurial Germany of Hansi Flick, the golden but largely inexperienced Brazil, the exciting Spain of Luis Enrique, the last gasps of a great Belgian team and the Netherlands under the idiosyncratic tutelage of Louis van Gaal .

In the latter group: quietly imagined Argentina, defending champions France, talented but limited Portugal and a lame England who seem ripe for another bout of navel-gazing angst culminating in an early exit. By the way, neither approach is objectively better than the other. Pragmatism worked for Portugal in 2016 and France in 2018, for Argentina in last year’s Copa America and for Senegal in this year’s Africa Cup of Nations. Ideology triumphed for Germany in 2014, for Brazil in 2019 and Italy in 2021. Further down the pecking order, the relevant divide is between more explosive and direct teams like Canada and Italy. Ecuador, or teams like Iran and Costa Rica who will just sit back and try to limit the damage.

Wales head to their first World Cup in 64 years with high hopes of upsetting the odds again, even though their deep system seems to invite pressure. Poland, home to one of the world’s greatest forwards and one of Aston Villa’s best full-backs, have a favorable squad as they bid to reach the knockout stages for the first time since 1986. Both Switzerland and Serbia would be highly valued if they weren’t unhappy. enough to be drawn into the same group as Brazil.

Lionel Messi during the Finalissima 2022 between Argentina and Italy at Wembley
Lionel Messi’s career with Argentina exposes the limits of star power when not backed by a cohesive team structure. Photography: Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images/Getty Images

However, perhaps the biggest unknown is the hosts. The Qatar team is entirely based in the country and hasn’t played a competitive match for a year. But they are perhaps the best prepared of all the teams this winter, and what they lack in raw talent they will make up for in organization and nationalist zeal. They may just create a surprise.

In short: we just don’t know. No World Cup has ever taken place under these circumstances, halfway through a European national season, with a heavy injury toll (N’Golo Kanté, Paul Pogba, Diogo Jota, Son Heung-min and Paulo Dybala are among those who are uncertain or uncertain). ) and teams that have barely spent time together in months.

Perhaps anger is the appropriate response here: anger at the lack of compassion or foresight, anger at the way powerful men simply weaponized this ruinous tournament into existence. But equally, this thing is also irresistibly enjoyable. Football starts and everything else stops. There will be upheavals, there will be feats of grandeur, there will be heartbreaks and there will be triumphs. To celebrate these things is not to condone them; that’s just all there is. A non-alcoholic toast, then, to Qatar 2022, and the weirdest, most horrible good time we’ve ever had.

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