THE ‘FIRST-IEST’ WORLD CUP EVER
Qatar 2022 is definitely the first World Cup to have generated quite so much controversy. But it’s also first on a few other fronts, too...
First World Cup in an Arab country
First World Cup to be held in winter
First World Cup without the Queen
First host nation to have never played in a World Cup before
First World Cup to take place over such a short period (28 days)
THE FIVE MUST-DROP NAMES
These are the players everyone will be talking about at Qatar 2022...
LIONEL MESSI (ARGENTINA)
People are talking about Messi at every World Cup, of course — but in Qatar his presence will loom larger than ever. Now 35, this will surely be the pint-sized Argentine’s last chance to get his hands on the ultimate sporting trophy. After everything Messi has given to football, you’d think the very least football could do is give him a World Cup in return.
SADIO MANÉ (SENEGAL)
The ex-Liverpool striker was known in his home nation as Samba Alar (meaning he performed well for his club, but not for his country). That all changed with Senegal’s triumph in the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year. With the blisteringly in-form Mané as their talisman, there is a strong sense that Senegal could become the first African country to reach a World Cup semi-final — or even go all the way.
JUDE BELLINGHAM (ENGLAND)
At just 17, England’s most exciting rising star swapped West Midlands for Dortmund and is now setting the Bundesliga alight. Now 19, Bellingham is a transfer target for Man United, Liverpool and Real Madrid, with a rumoured price tag of £130m. Feverish anticipation surrounds his first World Cup. Expect football-themed variations on ‘Hey Jude’ around Qatar’s stadia if the teenager delivers.
ALPHONSO DAVIES (CANADA)
Bookies would give you long odds on Canada getting much beyond the knockout stage, but they boast one of the tournament’s most exciting young players. Born in a Ghanaian refugee camp, 21-year-old Davies is Canada’s most decorated footballer, having won leagues and cups galore with Bayern Munich. Nicknamed the Road Runner, he can attack, defend and run rings around anyone who gets near him.
CHRISTIAN ERIKSEN (DENMARK)
The football world held its breath in 2020 when then 28-year-old Eriksen collapsed with cardiac arrest on the pitch. He was given life-saving treatment, fitted with a pacemaker and has now, unbelievably, worked his way back to full fitness in Denmark’s World Cup squad. There wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house if Eriksen were to go from a genuine brush with death to lifting the trophy next month...
THE MESSI SUPERFAN
Najira Naushadi, 34, is the solo mum and vlogger driving from her hometown in Kerala, India, to Qatar to watch Messi shoot straight
Where are you right now?
I’m staying in Oman. I arrived after shipping my Jeep from Mumbai via Coimbatore. Next I’ll travel to the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, arriving in Qatar in early December. I’ll cover 30,000km this trip.
Why do you travel alone?
This is my fourth travel series. I have a message to tell the whole world: I want to prove that any lady, any woman, any girl can travel with their passion and with their dreams.
What about your kids?
My mama takes care of my children. She and my husband are the biggest pillars of my strength and give me courage to travel alone.
What’s your daily routine as a ‘vanlifer’?
Day by day I use my Jeep as my tiny home — it’s called Ollu (slang for woman.) I have a kitchen, bed and a tent inside. I cook rice, biryani and chicken with masala on the road, and the villagers give me chai.
What’s your go-to snack on the road?
I don’t always have the best food; as a traveller I can eat anything, it really doesn’t matter. I had a potato paratha aloo bhaja, made by a Punjabi mother. It was very good and the taste is one of love!
Speaking of love, when did your obsession with Lionel Messi start?
I remember watching Messi’s first Fifa in 2006 when I was 17. Messi had long hair and a beautiful face — a handsome boy. Seeing him play touched my heart. I watched every single one of his matches after.
And what do you think of people who say Ronaldo is better than Messi?
Messi is my life, there is only one year difference between him and me: he is 23 June 1987 and I am the 24 July 1988. I am a die-hard fan but after Messi, I choose Ronaldo!
Even after the Pepsi scandal?
[Laughs] That’s just Ronaldo! He is my second because Messi will always be the No 1 footballer in the world. They are both very hard-working. We can face and defeat any problem; this is what we learn from Messi and Ronaldo. So besides daydreaming of footie players, how do you stay entertained? I try to meet different types of people and find new cultures and places, that’s my entertainment.
What’s on your road-trip playlist?
‘Hayya Hayya’, the Fifa World Cup 2022 song! That’s like me, always moving higher. It’s my favourite song, giving me motivation.
THE POST-SOUTHGATE MANAGERIAL STYLE ICONS
Gareth’s iconic waistcoat is so 2018. Here are three other managers set to steal the sartorial spotlight at Qatar 2022
HERVÉ RENARD (SAUDI ARABIA)
Bearing an uncanny resemblance to Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones, Frenchman Renard’s signature ‘barely buttoned shirt’ look is perfectly suited to Qatar’s balmy winter temperatures.
ALIOU CISSÉ (SENEGAL)
Nicknamed ‘El Tactico’ for his on-point strategising, the Senegalese gaffer is also a razor-sharp dresser. Look out for his statement chunky black-and-gold specs, which sit somewhere between Jeff Goldblum and Ronnie Corbett.
LUIS ENRIQUE (SPAIN)
Stalking the touchline in tucked-in shirt, jeans and sneakers, like a footballing Jerry Seinfeld, Enrique often tricks out his trademark ‘normcore’ look with rolled-up cuffs to flash a bit of ankle. Perfecto!
THE OVERZEALOUS REF
If you love the drama of a red card or two — or 10 — then you’ll love this Argentinian
In Argentinian football, things can often get a little… heated. In a 2011 game between Buenos Aires rivals Claypole and Victoriano Arenas, 36 players were sent off: quite impressive given that only 22 players start any given match (the referee decided to go into the dressing rooms and send off all players and substitutes, posthumously). That match remains a historical anomaly, but another Argentinian referee is set to boss some much more high-profile games at the World Cup. So if players find that Facundo Tello is overseeing proceedings, it might be wise to bear in mind that he recently showed 10 red cards in a Champions Trophy final between Racing Club and Boca Juniors. It all began when a player got a little over-excited celebrating a goal — probably best to just keep it to a tiny Tim Henman air punch.
THE THREE PLAYERS WHO COULD ‘OUT-CALF’ JACK GREALISH
England’s floppy-haired, midfield dynamo is renowned for his ludicrously chunky calves. Here are three other Qatar 2022 stars who have yet to skip leg day...
Gareth Bale (Wales)
Romelu Lukaku (Belgium)
Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland)
THE PENALTY SHOOT-OUT YOU SHOULD BE PRAYING FOR
Perennially spot-kick-phobic England will be looking to avoid pens at all costs. But there is one team that could provide a seriously entertaining shoot-out...
‘Elite shithousing’ is how one Twitter user gleefully described the antics of Australian goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne back in June. Tied 0-0 against Peru, Aussie manager Graham Arnold made the seemingly odd gamble to bring on his third-place stopper for the penalty shoot-out. It paid off: not only did Redmayne provide the winning save, he proved a memeable comic genius. The burly keeper did his best to intimidate the Peruvians with a bizarre, gangly limbed dance on the goal line (think Bez minus the maracas), and even lobbed his opposite number’s water bottle into the stands. Opinion was split on whether this was ‘cheeky bantz’ or ‘poor sportsmanship’, but it was entertaining. Witnessing Redmayne’s elite shithousing during an ACTUAL World Cup match would be a treat, so we’re crossing our fingers for an Aussie shoot-out... unless, of course, they’re playing England.
THE COMMENTATOR TRIVIA
Drop in these obscure facts about the Qatar 2022 pundits to make yourself seem extra-knowledgeable
BBC pundit Jurgen Klinsmann has a baking diploma and a helicopter pilot’s licence.
ITV pundit Andros Townsend has NEVER been to a nightclub. ‘I just don’t think I would enjoy it very much,’ he once claimed.
The talkSPORT pundit Stuart Pearce has seen legendary punk band The Stranglers live more than 300 times.
THE QUICK CHAT WITH ‘DR COOL’ We get on the phone with Qatar 2022’s superbly nicknamed air-con wizard
Dr Saud Abdul-Aziz Abdul-Ghani of Qatar University is the man behind the ground-breaking air conditioning tech that will guarantee agreeable temperatures inside World Cup stadia. He is also known, quite excellently, as ‘Dr Cool’. We caught up with the good doctor to talk about his work, predictions for the tournament and his nickname. But mostly his nickname.
Who first dubbed you Dr Cool?
I was doing an interview with a lady for CNN. She called me Dr Cool, and it went from there. It’s a pretty great nickname. It comes with responsibility, though [laughs].
Responsibility to be cool?
No, to ensure that all my cooling projects meet certain sustainable goals.
Tell us about the cooling systems you’ve introduced in Qatar’s stadia. We hear they’ll also eliminate body odour?
Yes. A lot of people say: ‘The tournament is in winter, why do we need air-conditioning?’ But it’s not just about cooling, it’s also about the quality of the air. If you’ve got 80,000 people jumping and cheering, there will be a lot of CO2 and an increase in body odour. We offset that heat and odour.
So, this could be the least smelly World Cup ever?
I hope so. And now with VAR you have less chance of another ‘Hand of God’, which makes it less smelly, too!
Who do you think will win?
I would love Qatar to do well. But I think maybe a Brazil v Argentina final.
Finally, Dr Cool, in your opinion, who is the coolest person on Earth?
Someone in Antarctica. Stood beside a penguin [laughs].
Thanks. I want to say a quick hello to my mates in Nottingham, where I studied. The UK is really one of the best countries!
THE BLUFFER’S GUIDE TO ENGLAND
Could it, actually, be coming home?
Depending on which side of the culture war you fight on, England boss Gareth Southgate is either a staunchly principled liberal hero or a waistcoat-wearing snowflake. Football-wise, Southgate divides opinion, too. Under his stewardship, the Three Lions have reached a World Cup semi-final and a European final, but critics see his tactics as timid, overly defensive and downright dull. But if he allows the likes of Harry Kane, Jack Grealish, Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham to engage their full creative firepower in Qatar then, yes, football could well be booking a ticket home.
Do say: ‘We got to the semis in 2018, to the final in 2020, so... that means we’re winning in 2022, right?’
Don’t say: ‘How many years of hurt are we at now?
THE BLUFFER’S GUIDE TO WALES
How will the Dragons fare at their first World Cup in 64 years?
Man-bunned maestro Gareth Bale remains the dynamo for the Welsh side, even though at 33 and turning out for Los Angeles FC, he is far from his peak. But Wales have a strong squad including speedy wing-back Neco Williams and tough-tackling defender Ben Davies. This being their first World Cup since 1958 will surely provide some explosiveness on the pitch. Expect them to pull out all stops in their group match against England on 29 November... Do say: ‘Cymru’ instead of ‘Wales’. The Welsh side are gearing up to change their name officially to Cymru (Welsh for Wales) after the World Cup — so you can get ahead of the game here. Don’t say: ‘Don’t worry if you get knocked out, you can always try again in another 64 years.
THE CHIEF FOOTBALL CORRESPONDENT’S PREDICTION
Brazil. A mid-season tournament means strength in depth will be most important and Brazil have oodles. Their attack alone includes Gabriel Jesus, Gabriel Martinelli and Richarlison, who all play club football in London, as well as the country’s poster-boy, Neymar. No other team can compete with that kind of firepower, while experience at the back comes from Chelsea veteran Thiago Silva. The other contenders all have issues. France and Argentina, who beat Brazil to the Copa America, have lost key players to injury, England are in stuttering form — and European champions Italy failed to qualify. Dan Kilpatrick, Evening Standard
THE ‘SOBER ZONES’ EXPLAINER
A brief outline of the weirdest innovation at this World Cup
How exactly do you host one of the most traditionally boozed-up gatherings on Earth in a country where being drunk in public is a literal crime? Simple: you introduce ‘Sober Zones’. These vaguely dystopian-sounding areas will give fans appearing particularly ‘tired and emotional’ in Qatar the chance to recuperate in peace. According to Qatar’s World Cup chief, Nasser Al Khater, the zones will be places ‘to make sure [fans] keep themselves safe and they’re not harmful to anyone else’. Whether viewers will be privelege to any footage from these dry-out camps remains to be seen. We’re imagining something along the lines of the ‘chill-out room’ in a Nineties nightclub: beanbags, ambient vibes, lava lamp-esque projections. The reality will probably be significantly less enjoyable...
THE BEST PLACES TO WATCH THE ACTION These London venues are ideal World Cup viewing spots
Convince your boss that you can still be productive by decamping to Toca Social’s ‘Watch+Work’ pop-up co-working space. But with big screens and snacks and cocktails courtesy of executive chef Ross Clarke, you may end up doing slightly more than work. (toca.social)
M VICTORIA STREET
What’s better than watching an England World Cup game in the company of a bona fide England legend? M Victoria Street is offering packages including a three-course meal, fine wine and Q&A with the likes of Paul Merson and Terry Butcher. (mrestaurants.co.uk)
This being the first wintery World Cup, beer gardens will be eschewed for cosier, indoor venues. The ‘bookable fan zones’ at Market Halls are an excellent shout, featuring BrewDog beer and food from Black Bear Burger, Le Bab and more. (markethalls.co.uk)
You’ll be well catered for during morning matches by Berenjak Borough’s first-ever brunch menu. From the first group match to the final, the home-style Persian restaurant offers a sumptuous array of kebabs, mazeh and Madagascan giant prawns to devour while you’re watching the games. (berenjaklondon.com)