The FIFA World Cup, known as The World Cup, is a soccer tournament that dominates the headlines every four years.
211 countries attempted to qualify for the event, with just 32 reaching Qatar this winter. One of those is the USMNT, back at the competition after failing to qualify in 2018. Canada, Costa Rica and Mexico make up the other CONCACAF qualifiers at the first World Cup not to be held in the summer.
Qatar will be the 23rd World Cup competition, and despite Bloomberg calling it a controversial choice for the event, it will be no less divisive than those before it. In 1978, Argentina hosted the event against a backdrop of political unrest, while Brazil’s vast expenditure in 2014 was widely questioned, and many stadiums have now been virtually abandoned. Even this year, 2018 hosts Russia will not participate after being expelled despite the New York Times reporting they’d qualified for the playoffs.
Whilst Qatar will be controversial, it will still see the world’s best teams competing on a single stage. The outright favorites in the current Ladbrokes odds are Brazil, a team used to humid conditions and packed with superstars. France, England and Spain head up the European frontrunners, whilst Senegal are Africa’s great hope for progression beyond the quarterfinals. That’s never happened before, although Ghana came within a whisker of it in 2010, cruelly robbed by a handball. That’s something they’ll hope to repeat after sealing their place at Qatar.
How will Qatar 2022 stand up against some of the finest tournaments in history? It would have to go some way to beat these three, presented in no particular order.
The 1986 World Cup is remembered for one player, but we’ll look at the other highlights before we come to him. Spain and Denmark, both perennial underachievers, both started well. The Danes beat fancied West Germany 2-0 in the group stages and hammered Uruguay 6-1. Spain came second in a group containing World Cup heavyweights Brazil, then thrashed the Danes 5-1 in the round of 16. Only penalties stopped them from progressing against Belgium, who Argentina eliminated in the semifinals. The South American side were led by Diego Maradona, scorer of arguably the greatest World Cup goal in their 2-1 quarterfinal win against England, and the most controversial. 1986 is remembered for his Hand of God moment, but he bagged a brace in the semifinals and was unplayable as Argentina won the final; they led 2-0 after 55 minutes, were pegged back to 2-2 with ten minutes to go and still found a third to seal the tie in arguably the best final of all time.
After their win in 1986, Argentina were the favorites again, so when Cameroon defeated them in the opening game, you knew we had a tournament on our hands. The competition had the poorest goals to game return of any World Cup before it, but it was still thrilling in the extreme. Costa Rica, first-time qualifiers, surprised Scotland by winning 1-0 and beating Sweden 2-1, advancing to the knockout stages. Cameroon were on course for a semifinal, leading England 2-1 in their game but losing 3-2. It was also the final time we saw the original Yugoslavia in World Cup action, with Robert Prosinecki named the best young player. The less said about the final, a turgid affair with two red cards and a late penalty, the better.
France 98 was the final competition of the 20th Century, and it was a beauty. The Netherlands didn’t win it, but they were one of the standout teams, beating FR Yugoslavia and a strong Argentina side (with a Dennis Bergkamp wonder goal) before succumbing to Brazil. Argentina had dispatched England in the last 16 in a thrilling 2-2 draw that was decided on penalties, whilst Norway beat Brazil in the group stages and almost caused an upset against Italy. The final is perhaps best known for Ronaldo playing whilst unfit and France ushering in a new age of European domination with a 3-0 win against Brazil.