The most exotic World Cup in history. The first to be played in an Arab country, with no history or football presence, controversial by his election and by multiple denunciations, the more expensive also (It is estimated that 200,000 million dollars were spent), but real. More real than ever because the ball is starting to roll and it will do so with intensity for 64 games.
A country that is committed to showing another image to the world, which seems more interested in multiplying those 3.572 million people who watched Russia 2018 on television than to get excited about the 14,468 million dollars that the previous World Cup contributed to the local economy.
A city, Doha (all eight stadiums are within a radius of 55 kilometers), full of cars, freeways, many more immigrants than natives (they are barely 10 percent of the three million inhabitants), where everything seems about to be released (to be recycled later) and waiting for a flood of tourists (the figures differ, but at least 1.4 million are expected ). A city that will finally start talking about football and looking for answers.
Will it be Messi’s World Cup, finally? Can the European hegemony that has lasted 20 years and four different champions be broken? Can a champion repeat 60 years later?
A World Cup that has candidates (Brazil, France, Argentina), but cannot guarantee who will be the champion. A World Cup that promises figures (Messi, Neymar, Mbappé, Cristiano?) and promises (Pedri and Gavi, from Spain, Julián Álvarez, among many) and that cannot offer security in those areas either.
But there are things we already know. Like Lionel Scaloni, driver from outside the Argentine illusion, at 44 years old he will be the youngest coach of the 32 who are in Qatar. At the other extreme is Louis van Gaal, 71, again, as in 2014, in command of the Netherlands.
Scaloni is one of the three coaches that our country contributes. Another is Gustavo Alfaro, who will debut this Sunday with Ecuador against the local Qatar, a team that has the obligation to be competitive. Gerardo Martino completes the list, who leads Mexico, the second rival of the National Team.
There are nine foreign coaches, with a predominance of Argentines, Spaniards (Luis Enrique in his own, plus Roberto Martínez with Belgium and Félix Sánchez Bas in the local), Portuguese (Fernando Santos, plus Carlos Queiroz with Iran and Paulo Bento in Korea) and French (Didier Deschamps, Herve Renard with Saudi Arabia and Walid Regragui, nationalized Morocco and in charge of that team).
We will have to wait until Tuesday to see Argentina’s debut. The National Team comes from the blow in Russia (farewell in the round of 16, 16th in the final table) but with an evident internal reconstruction that invites hope.
It seems inevitable to think of it as Messi’s World Cup. Because it is logical to believe that at 35 he will play last and because he arrives as excited as the fans. And it will be his fifth World Cup, reaching the mark of Lothar Matthäus, Rafael Márquez, Gianluigi Buffon and Antonio Carbajal.
That is one of the marks that Leo can achieve in Qatar, although his objective is more collective than individual. With 19 games played, he is only two behind Diego Maradona, the Argentine with the most World Cup appearances. If the planets align he could surpass Matthäus’ super mark of 25 games.
Without a dazzling performance, Messi could surpass Gabriel Batistuta, the top scorer with 10 goals. He has six, he needs four to catch up.
It will also be the fifth World Cup for Cristiano Ronaldo, at the age of 37. The room for Neymar and the Uruguayans Luis Suárez, Edinson Cavani, Diego Godín and Fernando Muslera, the German Thomas Müller. And Angel Di Maria. The second of the French Kylian Mbappé and the Pole Robert Lewandowski, who hopes to make his debut on the net, since he did not convert in 2018.
In Qatar there will also be a new chapter in the war of the brands, in which this time Nike prevails with 13 shirts over the 7 of Adidas. The first time that the North American brand surpassed the German was in 2014, with a 10-9 score. In Russia 2018 Adidas reversed with a 12-10 score. The third, as in the last World Cups, is still Puma, which has six teams and doubled its number from 2018.
The boots are private contracts of the footballers. Messi wears Adidas; Cristiano and Mbappé, Nike; Neymar, Puma.
The VAR will be present and the technological novelty will be the semi-automatic offside detection system, which will speed up times, but make no mistake: it will be the referee who makes the decision.
What World Cup will we see?
Despite the fact that it is played in November, with the seasons of the main leagues just beginning and with the best players without the burden of 60 games, the tight schedule kicked the imagined board and generated a state of panic due to injuries, which have already left footballers outside of the big appointment and those that can take place – the last great loss was that of Karim Benzema -. The heat will also be the protagonist, the 35 degrees out of season refuse to withdraw, although another novelty of this Cup is that the stadiums will have air conditioning. It will reach?
All this can weigh negatively, but sometimes hope prevails over experience and we get excited about a World Cup to enjoy.
With Messi, Neymar, Mbappé, the new faces that appear, powerful teams, possible surprises (Serbia, Denmark, Ghana?).
However, and in line with Scaloni’s statements, a World Cup with cheap teams can also be expected, which the National Team coach defined as “cautious” or “intelligent”. In other words, like France was in 2018. A champion without good ball possession records (39% in the final against Croatia, which they won 4-2, and less than 50% on average) but forceful in the opposite goal. Without shyness to play on the counterattack and into space, where Mbappé is lethal.
Another piece of information that Russia offered was that 43 percent of the goals came from set pieces. These are two tendencies that seem to be asserting themselves. We will have to wait a bit.
Qatar has the last word.
Doha, Qatar. Special delivery.