By Alex Wintz || Contributing Writer
The greatest sporting event in the world will be here before we know it! After its longest absence since World War II, the World Cup returns this weekend. The World Cup kicks off this Sunday at 11 AM as host nation Qatar plays Senegal, the defending champions of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations. Sixty-three games follow before a new world champion is crowned in just four short weeks. The World Cup is a special event that transcends sports, permeating every aspect of our lives. Whether you’re a football fanatic or a sports novice, this guide will have you fully prepared for this year’s FIFA World Cup.
Let’s talk about the host.
This is a weird World Cup. This is the first World Cup not only in Qatar but in the entire Middle East. This year will have a completely different feel for fans in the stadiums and those watching from home. For starters, this is the first time the World Cup will be played in the winter. It will be strange watching the late stages of the World Cup while cooped up inside studying for finals, instead of outside at the beach in the summer heat. With summer afternoon temperatures in Qatar averaging 108°F, the games will be played in the coming weeks, sandwiched between Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, with afternoon temperatures routinely reaching 93°F in November, the benefit for the players is minimal.
Why would Qatar host the World Cup if their conditions are not conducive to playing soccer? It is reported that Qatar spent over half a billion dollars on bribes to the governing bodies of soccer as well as political figures from around the globe. Qatar continues to shell out millions of dollars in bribes to media companies to hide the atrocities their government is committing. Since the 2022 World Cup was awarded to the gulf nation, over 6,500 migrant workers who have worked on infrastructure for the tournament have died. Over 2 million migrant workers have been brought into the small oil-rich country to help build stadiums, hotels, and entertainment for guests of the event. At one point, over half of those workers were being detained illegally by their employers without any way to go home. These are issues that will remain present throughout the tournament, and it is important to keep that in mind if you decide to watch the games.
Looking to follow a country that is likely to go far in the tournament? Look no further!
England has an exciting team with quality at just about every position. After losing the 2020 European Championship in heartbreaking fashion, the Three Lions feel like this year they are due for some good luck. Dynamic young players like Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), and Bukayo Saka (Arsenal) will look to help last World Cup’s top scorer Harry Kane give England their first major trophy since 1966.
Argentina has one last chance to help Lionel Messi win soccer’s greatest trophy before he retires. Messi and his supporting attacking cast of Angel Di Maria (Juventus), Lautaro Martinez (Inter Milan), Paulo Dybala (Roma), and Manchester City phenom Julian Alvarez will hope to overpower opponents and carry their mediocre defense to World Cup glory.
Defending champions France have an embarrassment of riches in their squad this tournament. Karim Benzema (Real Madrid) and Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain) are undoubtedly the best forward pairing in the world, and their defense has the perfect mix of young firepower and experienced veterans. Despite losing midfield leaders N’golo Kante and Paul Pogba, the teenage duo of Eduardo Camavinga and Aurelien Tchouameni look more than ready to anchor the French midfield for years to come.
Spain has the experience needed to go far in the tournament. The defensive unit led by Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Paris Saint-Germain), and Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid) has been playing at a world-class level for over a decade. However, look elsewhere if you love high-scoring matches. Spain has consistently struggled to find a consistent goal scorer for years, and this year is no different.
Belgium has enjoyed a golden age of success over the past decade, but even the Red Devils know this is their last World Cup with a chance to win something. While their squad is starting to show signs of aging, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid) can keep any team in the game while Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) hopes to prove that he is still the best-attacking midfielder in the world.
Brazil is Vegas’s favorite to win the World Cup but is by no means a lock to win anything. Their attack is fast-paced, full of flair, and overflowing with individual talent. Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain) will lead Brazil’s star-studded attack for his third World Cup, but wingers Antony (Manchester United), Raphinha (Arsenal), and Real Madrid duo Vinicius Jr & Rodrygo would start in any team’s lineup.
Portugal is also in a good position to make a deep run in what will be Christiano Ronaldo’s last World Cup. Manchester City duo Joao Cancelo and Ruben Dias are probably the best right-side defensive pairing in the tournament and you can never count Christiano Ronaldo, the most clutch player in modern football, out of a game.
Other fun teams to follow will be Croatia– who looked special during their run to the World Cup Final in 2018, Senegal– the reigning Africa Cup champions, Germany– who have the potential to match up with any country in the world, and Canada– our neighbors to the north who are expecting to make a splash in their first World Cup in almost 40 years.
While they may not be one of the top teams in the tournament, I hope most of you guys rooting for our country’s team! After missing the last World Cup four years ago in embarrassing fashion, the United States is back with a completely new team. Only one player in the 26-man squad has played in a World Cup match before. After a complete squad overhaul, the “Baby Eagles” are the second youngest team in this World Cup. More players in this USA squad play in the top European leagues than ever before, with 10 of them playing in the Champions League this season. Local players range from Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), from Hershey, PA, and Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United) from Medford, NJ, are expected to lead the United States attack in this tournament, while starting Goalkeeper Matt Turner (Arsenal) will be representing Bergen County, NJ in Qatar. On Black Friday, America plays England for a chance to go into the knockout stage of the tournament in what is likely to be the most-watched soccer game in American history. If the United States manages to win two out of three games against England, Wales, and Iran they will move into the knockout stage of the tournament for the sixth time in history.
Want to sound like you know what you’re talking about? Whether you’re trying to impress someone during a game or just looking for more quick facts, here are some interesting tidbits on the tournament.
The most valuable player in the world is notably missing from the World Cup. Erling Haaland is a 22-year-old phenom who has become the most prolific goal scorer in the world over the past couple of years. Unfortunately, the 170 million dollars forward from Norway will have to wait four years for a chance to shine on the world’s biggest stage. At least he will have a better chance with the expanded World Cup in 2026. Say “Haaland would be the best player on the field right now if he was (insert nationality of either team playing in the current game here)” if you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about at a watch party.
Video Assistant Review will be back in the World Cup for the second time after its debut in the last tournament four years ago. The new technology was received poorly during the tournament, but referees have gotten slightly better about integrating VAR into the rules today.
The next World Cup is coming to the Americas! The 2026 World Cup will be hosted in the United States, Canada, and Mexico and games will be played right nearby in Philadelphia. The next World Cup will also be the biggest World Cup yet, with 48 teams participating over the 32 teams normally competing. As the host, the US team has already qualified as a top seed and will have a real chance at making it to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2002.
Senior Alex Wintz is a contributing writer. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.