The World Cup: The Good, The Bad, and The Very Ugly

Senegal’s captain and star Sadio Mane suffered an injury playing for his club team, just days prior to the World Cup, that reportedly will keep him out of the tournament. Getting called up to play for your nation is the highest honor for soccer professionals, but many players won’t be able to play due to the unique circumstances of the 2022this World Cup. 

Qatar, in a process that involved well documented corruption in FIFA, was given the World Cup for 2022. It was determined very quickly that, because of the dangerously high temperatures of a Qatar summer, the World Cup would be played starting in November and ending in December. This completely changed the calendar of leagues across the world. Players had shorter summers as seasons started earlier. Players have been playing at least a game a week for months leading up to the World Cup and have not yet been granted leave for the World Cup. Leagues will be brought to an abrupt halt only a week before the start of the World Cup. At every other World Cup, the playing season ends and the players get to have an early summer break and then play in the World Cup. That schedule lets players recover from outstanding injuries and reduces the risk of them getting new ones. This year, players will either be tired going into the tournament, with its hectic schedule, or injured and unable to play. Many of the world’s best will be unable to take part in the tournament. 

Qatar, like host nations in the past, did not already have stadiums that could accommodate the huge crowds of the Cup. Seven of the eight stadiums were built from scratch, all with a capacity of 40,000 or higher. After Brazil hosted a controversial World Cup in 2014, their stadiums became wastelands. Brazil devoted huge amounts of space and resources to the stadiums, which were unused after the Cup. Qatar, on the other hand, seems to have plans to make the best use of arenas following the World Cup. The issue with the Qatar stadiums stems from their construction. It’s been reported that 6,750 South Asian migrant workers died during the building of stadiums and other World Cup-related attractions. The Qatar government claimed the deaths were from natural causes. The United Nations International Labor Organization said that the conditions of the Qatar summer made work unsafe. Many of the deaths were due to respiratory or heart failure. 

As fans consider traveling to Qatar for the games, an issue arises for many. The treatment of LGBTQ+ people has been brought to center stage the last couple weeks. Stories of unlawful and violent detainments of LGBTQ+ people in Qatar have understandably prompted many not to feel safe in traveling to support their country at the tournament. FIFA has attempted to put measures in place to promote safety for LGBTQ+ people, including human rights training and legal provisions that claim to protect all people. Yet the fact that Qatar has to make exceptions to their laws on LGBTQ+ people serves as a reminder of the issues in Qatar. 

With all that said, there is still a World Cup to be played and with it comes excitement and passion from fans and players that is unrivaled in sports. Regardless of your level of patriotism, it is really fun to cheer for your country in a setting like this or the Olympics. You’re cheering for the players representing the country, more than for the country itself. And for the first time since 2014, we have a chance to cheer on our boys from the U.S. The United States come in as the youngest team by more than a calendar year, with an average age of 25.5. It’s an exciting time for U.S Soccer. More than ever, there is an abundance of U.S. talent throughout Europe’s top five leagues and elsewhere. Christian Pulisic, who is from just a little down the road in Hershey, Pennsylvania, will captain the side. The 24 year old Pulisic became the only American to ever win the Champions League when he did so for Chelsea last year. Pulisic is one of the few remaining players from the heartbreaking team which failed to qualify in 2018. There is a huge weight on his shoulders. The team needs him to come up big. The USA have other young, talented attacking options as the likes of Brendan Aaronson and Gio Reyna tear up Europe this year. No one expects the U.S. to come anywhere close to winning the Cup, but making it out of the group stages and showing positive signs that they can compete on the world’s biggest stage would be great. 

Outside of the USA, there are a lot of exciting teams and storylines. Brazil, led by the incredibly talented Neymar, hope to make it back to the promised land. They have talent and experience across the board and are, understandably, one of the favorites. It is sure to be the last World Cup for Messi and Ronaldo. Both are looking for one more chance to bring home the elusive trophy. Messi and Argentina feel confident, heading into the tournament with a very impressive 35 game unbeaten run. Messi will give it his all, but there are questions about the team around him. Ronaldo and Portugal have attacking talent that is undisputed but, as a team, they often underperform. Portugal narrowly avoided not qualifying for the Cup. France won the Cup in 2018 and may have an even better squad now, with Kylian Mbappe clearly putting himself in the ranks of the world’s best. Mbappe’s attacking partner, Karim Benzema, who just won the award for best player for 2021, wasn’t on the 2018 team. However, injuries to Paul Pogba and N’golo Kante could hurt France in the midfield. Still, France is a team no one wants to face. 2018 saw dark horse Croatia make it all the way to the finals. Every World Cup seems to have one surprise team and there are many candidates for this one. 

This World Cup is filled with controversy, in ways like no other. The problems with Qatar have been well known since they were chosen as the host twelve years ago. When thousands of lives are lost unnecessarily, there is no silver lining. It’s tragic. It is also disappointing that top players will miss the Cup because of injuries that wouldn’t have happened if the Cup had been played at its normal time. But when the initial whistle blows, I will still be eagerly watching and waiting for the iconic moments that only come with the World Cup.