The 2022 FIFA World Cup, perhaps the most controversial edition of the world’s biggest football event kicked off today in Qatar with the hosts easily losing their opening game 2-0 to Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium.
The start of the tournament, which is being held in a Muslim country for the first time ever, has been marred by adversity surrounding the treatment of LGBT citizens and migrant workers, some of who were killed in the construction of World Cup stadiums 12 months ago.
Nevertheless, FIFA, the world governing body for football, has encouraged players, officials, the media, stakeholders and fans to focus on the great game to unite us all.
On Saturday, just hours before the opening fixture, FIFA president Gianni Infantino made an unorthodox speech in which he sought to defend Qatar and advocate for a great tournament from November 20 to December 18. He even said it would be the greatest World Cup the world has ever seen.
Well, for the host nation it certainly didn’t start this way. It was a case of men vs boys as Ecuador players hardly broke a sweat in beating Qatar in a Group A match where the scoreline should have been far more superior.
Ecuador captain Enner Valencia ensured Qatar became the first host nation to lose a World Cup opening fixture when he scored his 36th and 37th goals of his international career to lead his country to victory and become the all-time leading goal scorer for Ecuador in the World Cup.
It might be their only win of the group stage as the two remaining games are against reigning African Cup of Nations champions Senegal and Netherlands, the country which holds the record of having the most finals appearances without winning the prestigious competition. The Dutch progressed to the World Cup finals on three occasions in 1974, 1978 and 2010.
Barbados TODAY will take a look at which nations are likely to win the World Cup and the key players that will be involved.
Ninety-five per cent of Barbados hails for Brazil who boost a unique and attractive samba style of play and they are clear-cut favourites to lift the trophy for a record six times since the World Cup started in 1930.
The last time Brazil won the competition was in 2002 but there is a feeling this time around and a wind of optimism suggesting this could be their year to go the distance again.
They will field a star-studded forward attack, led by Paris Saint-Germain’s Neymar and he is expected to be assisted by the likes of Anthony, Richarlison, Vinicius Junior, Gabriel Martinelli and Gabriel Jesus.
Historically, international football games are won and lost depending on which team can concede less goals. And as much fire-power as Brazil has on the attacking front, they will need to defend solidly as a unit if they are going to win.
Argentina is the next team the bookies believe can triumph and many believe it will be a Copa American World Cup final between Messi and Neymar. There is no doubt that this is Lionel Messi’s final World Cup at the age of 35. He has been so close, yet so far to perhaps the only accolade in world football that evades him. In 2014, he had the golden opportunity to lift the cup but his Argentina side were beaten in the final by Germany compliments of a late winner from Mario Gotze. At the time, it prompted Messi to end his international career but he was back a year later and seven years on is still dreaming of winning the World Cup. Angel Di Maria, Paulo Dybala, Angel Correa and Lautaro Martinez will be other Argentines to watch.
France, the reigning holders cannot be ruled out either despite injury woes. Midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante are missing, and on the eve of the tournament, Ballon’ Dor winner Karim Benzema picked up a thigh injury which ended his World Cup before it even started.
Nevertheless, France are two-time winners and with Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezman and Ousmane Dembele on the roster, they have a genuine chance.
Belgium ranked as No.2 in the world should also be in the mix, with the likes of Kevin De Bryne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku in the squad.
Gareth Southgate’s England with Tottenham striker Harry Kane who won the last golden boot in charge, will lead the teams of dark houses which should include Senegal, Denmark, Uruguay and Netherlands. Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal could cause serious problems as well, and with the 37-year-old in the headlines for publicly criticising Manchester United manager Erik Ten Hag and the club’s management and ownership, he will have a big point to prove on his final outing.