by Renwick Rose
The biggest single sports event, arguably eclipsing even the multi-sport Olympic Games, FIFA’s World Cup opens in the Middle Eastern country of Qatar, not renowned for football, before an eager total global audience of billions this Sunday.
There is no single sports tournament which attracts such participation or television audience and the matches, running up to the finals on December 18, will be followed from all corners of the world.
But pause a minute. Is it December for the finals, and Qatar, better known for its desert terrain and oil wealth? How did this happen?
Traditionally the World Cup has been played in the northern summer months, accommodating itself to the timetables of the big leagues of the north. Even when venues outside of Europe were chosen, whether in South America, Asia or South Africa, the World Cup finals were fit into this schedule.
However, when FIFA, under disgraced President Sepp Blatter, now banned, awarded the Finals to an ambitious and cash-laden Qatar, it was clear that adjustments would have to be made because the summer months would have been too hot in Qatar.
Financial considerations got the upper hand over European football concerns and Qatar is now preparing to demonstrate it can host like any other. Even concerns over the violation of the rights of workers from outside Qatar engaged in building stadiums, hotels and other facilities for the games had to take second place.
WHO WILL WIN?
Now the games are about to begin, the matter most on the minds of football fans and engaging the attention of betting houses all over the world is who will win the 2022 edition of the FIFA World Cup.
All sorts of predictions are being made, but it is safe to say the bets seem to revolve around the “Big 4” of holders France, the World Cup’s most successful nation, Brazil, two-time winners Argentina, with Lionel Messi spearheading, and Spain.
England and Germany are given outside chances.
Opta, a British sports analytics company, operating for 30 sports in 70 countries, has predicted that Brazil, starved of the trophy for two decades now, will win.
Argentina is second choice followed by France, Spain, England and Germany. Three other leading European teams, Netherlands, Portugal, and Belgium follow in that order.
Senegal is Africa’s top-ranked team by Opta, but its chances may be hampered by the injury to top star Sadio Mane.
The predictions seem to validate the rankings of a team of ESPN sports analysts who ranked the top 50 footballers expected to be on show.
France has the two top-ranked players in Kylian Mbappe, followed by Karim Benzema, with three others in the top 50. Brazil however has the biggest number of top-rankers with 7 of the 50, though its leading player, Neymar is ranked only 8th .
Players from Germany and Portugal, 6 each, put their teams just behind Brazil, making the Opta predictions leaving them out of the top four in question.
But all this is speculation, let the games begin.