The FIFA World Cup, undoubtedly the biggest sports event in the world, is scheduled to begin on Nov. 20. However, the event is expected to look a lot different from years past.
Usually, the World Cup is held in early summer, often through the months of June and July. However, due to extremely hot summer temperatures in the host country Qatar, the event was moved to the wintertime to be held in the months of November and December.
This change has drawn mass criticism from the soccer world. The World Cup is typically held during the summertime to avoid interrupting the major European leagues, in which the majority of elite players compete. There was also a concern that a wintertime World Cup would increase the number of players missing the competition due to injuries sustained in league play.
As it turns out, these fears were well-founded. Many starters for competing nations have been ruled out or are doubtful for the tournament.
A calf injury suffered by potential Portuguese breakout star Diogo Jota has effectively collapsed his chances at being selected for the competition. German starting striker Timo Werner saw his chances at competing in the World Cup dashed after sustaining an ankle injury playing in the Champions League.
However, no nation has been more decimated than the defending champion French. Both N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba, elite midfielders and key cogs in France’s 2018 World Cup victory, have been ruled out of the tournament.
This change is one of many reasons Qatar has come under fire since it was announced as a host location. A selection as a World Cup host nation breeds interest and with it, an increased spotlight, which can be a positive or negative thing for a relatively unknown nation such as Qatar.
Up to this point, it has been primarily negative for Qatar. Since its selection, Qatar’s stifling human rights record has been the focus of many think pieces and news coverage. In a particularly cruel policy, homosexuality is illegal in the nation.
Miraculously, considering all the issues and concerns, the tournament is now mere weeks away. At the end of the day, the World Cup is a soccer tournament, and that is where we turn now – what is soccer going to look like?
As it’s been the past four World Cups, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are the two biggest names in the tournament, but this time there’s a twist. This is the final World Cup the two generation-defining players will compete in, both looking for their first victory. The two players have taken very different routes to Qatar, however.
Lionel Messi continues to be one of the great players in the world, and his Argentinian side reflects his greatness. Many analysts judge this version of Argentina to be the best Messi has ever played with in a World Cup and give them the second-best odds to capture the Jules Rimet Trophy.
Meanwhile, Cristiano Ronaldo has been relegated to the bench for Manchester United, the club that first signed him from Sporting CP of the Primeria Liga, the Portuguese soccer league. Just as Argentina reflects the current state of Messi, Portugal reflects the current state of Ronaldo. Most analysts project Portugal to escape the group stage but flame out shortly after.
If your nation has Messi and Ronaldo, a championship is always the goal. As for other nations looking to come away with a victory, Kylian Mbappe and the injury-decimated French national team will attempt to defend their 2018 victory, while Neymar Jr. and juggernaut Brazil have the greatest odds to dethrone the French. However, Denmark and the Netherlands, led by Christian Eriksen and Virgil van Dijk, love their chances to play the role of spoiler and make deep tournament runs.
Will Messi or Ronaldo win their first World Cup? Will Neymar finally come through and give Brazil their sixth Jules Rimet Trophy? Will Kylian Mbappe and the French overcome injuries and repeat as champions? Or will a nation such as Denmark surprise everyone and make a run for the ages? All these questions and more will be answered starting on Nov. 20.