Despite being nine years away, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has already received lashings of criticism.
Over the coming seasons, major decisions are to be made about the competition, and doubtless its popularity will ebb and flow as FIFA and the Qatari federation bring plans and aspirations closer to reality.
At this early stage, however, I wish to explore some of the reasons why people ought to look a little more optimistically towards the competition, as the sport’s most glorious occasion comes to the Middle East.
So, placing aside fears of intense heat, the very likely reality of increased carbon emissions and the menacing spectre of Mohammed bin Hammam, read on and explore why Qatar 2022 might not be the disaster many are anticipating.
These intentions were announced by the Qatari delegation soon after securing the World Cup bid and clearly the federation are placing great importance on providing a terrific backdrop to this historic international spectacle.
Qatar has rarely missed an opportunity to present themselves and their wares to the watching world; the nation is acutely aware of its branding and marketing potential. The powers that be will realise the importance of profiting from the World Cup bandwagon and in the short term we, the spectators, will benefit.
Expect every penny of the aforementioned expenditure to be splashed onto your screens as the tournament explodes in a vivid technicolour.
The Arab State may border only one other nation, Saudi Arabia, but its location—in the crucible between Africa and Asia—should encourage visitors. The capital, Doha, is a key destination for many major European airports and makes the tiny nation easily accessible.
The convenient timezone will also allow Europe’s viewing public to keep up to date with the action with only minor disruption to their daily routines. The recent Confederations Cup in Brazil featured matches which kicked off in the early hours of the morning in Central Europe; not ideal for FIFA’s most influential public.
Attendances for the 2011 Asian Cup, held in the tiny nation, may have been a disappointment, but expect the nation’s population of just over a million and a half to be dwarfed by the fans entering the nation for 2022’s tournament.
Former US international Eric Wynalda argued that for the World Cup to be considered a success, attendances would need to be twice as big as the nation’s current population.
The last twenty years have seen FIFA demonstrate a commitment to broadening its horizons and opening its “product” up to a wider audience. The key way of doing this is by taking its premier event, the World Cup, to new heartlands.
In 2010 South Africa reaped the rewards of this initiative as South Korea, Japan and the USA had done in decades previously. Between 1994 and 2010 the World Cup touched three new, majorly lucrative heartlands.
After next year’s trip to Brazil and the jaunt to Russia in 2018, the Middle East will be brought into the World Cup fold with Qatar benefitting from the (truly) global game. The Gulf is among the world’s fastest growing areas for football and promises to provide FIFA with another endless stream of passionate, young fans—particularly once the bandwagon comes to town.
The 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Asia was a tournament where the underdogs thrived.
The hosts Korea, as well as Turkey, made it to the semi-finals, while unfancied Senegal defeated France and made it all the way to the quarter-final stage.
Struggling with the unfamiliar surroundings and taxing conditions, Argentina, France and Italy struggled and failed to trouble the latter stages of the competition.
Could similarly unfamiliar conditions cause problems for the traditional big sides in the Middle East? If the major nations struggle, then the door might be opened for an unlikely team to claim the game’s highest honour.
As an aficionado of the African game, I would earmark Nigeria—even at this early stage—to be a side who could benefit from complacency elsewhere and upset the applecart.
The African Giants won the Cup of Nations earlier in the year with a young side put together by Stephen Keshi. The youngsters have taken amazing strides over the last 12 months and could be growing into a genuine international force.
A myriad of problems could envelop the team over the next nine years, but buoyed by recent successes and established by their remarkable Afcon triumph, the likes of Victor Moses, Godfrey Oboabona and Ogenyi Onazi—in their prime in 2022—could pose a major threat.
Messi to wave 'Goodbye' in 2022?
Writing on the topic of Qatar and Lionel Messi back in March I wrote the following:
Football observers appear to fit into two camps, there are those who think that Leo Messi is already the Greatest of all Time, and there are those who believe that the diminutive Argentine is only one World Cup win away from leapfrogging Pele and Maradona to the top of the plinth.
The diminutive forward will be 34 by the time the Qatari World Cup rolls around in 2022; the same age as Andrea Pirlo and a year younger than his Barcelona teammate Carles Puyol. If he does feature, it will surely be his final swansong in the international arena.
What better way to bow out than on the world’s greatest stage, the showcase of the immortals, one of the all-time greats calling it a day as the globe looks on. Zinedine Zidane set the precedent for this back in a dramatic encounter against Italy in 2006.
Whether Messi goes out holding the trophy aloft in Doha, or in a blaze of flamboyant failure, the 2022 showpiece could be a fitting departure for one of the genuine greats.