The most compact FIFA World Cup since 1930 and the very first edition to be held in the Middle East and Arab world will kick off on 20 November to 18 December 2022. To get you up to speed, VIP Magazine’s IKENNA OKAFOR presents the big countdown with a weekly compilation of news, facts and figures.
England targets glory in Qatar
Now is the moment for the Three Lions to rub off the tag of the “nearly team” of international football. Gareth Southgate’s men were knocked out by Croatia in Moscow. This was followed by a devastating penalty loss to the Azzurri’s of Italy last year in the Euro 2020 final.
Attending the Qatar World Cup is a unique opportunity for all teams, including England’s players. As the tournament takes place in the middle of the domestic league season, their Premier League-heavy squad will be in peak physical condition and match sharpness rather than entering it at the end of a busy season, as is usual.
England is the top seed in Group B and is joined by the USA, Iran and Wales. As the group stage progresses, each will present different challenges for England. Iran is a brand new opponent at this senior level, as the nations have never played each other in a competitive setting before.
Many football enthusiasts believe that this is England’s strongest pool of players for a generation. The squad has many high-quality players sharing positions that could leave Gareth Southgate with major selection headaches.
Of course, the leading man is their captain and no.9, Harry Kane. He was the World Cup golden boot winner in Russia and scored a huge goal to get them to the Euro 2020 final last year against Denmark. If England stands any chance of winning this tournament, they need Harry Kane to be fit and firing.
Facts and figures
The English Premier League holds the record for the most players provided by a football association! The Premier League has a total of 1022 players over its course of history.
France won the 2018 World Cup Final and claimed its second World Cup title. The last time France was the world champion was back in 1998 when France was a host country.
The World Cup in 2006 saw one of the matches with the highest number of red cards! The second round of the World Cup was held between Netherlands-Portugal and a total of four players were red-carded! two from each side. 16 yellow cards were also dished out by referee Valentin Ivanov.
Uruguayan defender Jose Batista was sent off (red-carded) just after 56 seconds in Uruguay vs Scotland match in 1986.
Germany is the undisputed King of penalty shoot-outs, scoring a remarkable 17 of the 18 penalties. France, Mexico, England and Argentina have tried – and failed – to beat them.
Players to watch
Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool/ Netherlands)
Despite playing the consistent role of Liverpool’s defensive rock, Van Dijk has never featured at a World Cup with his country. The Dutch are much stronger at the back and in midfield, than they have been in recent years, and similarly to Premier League rival De Bruyne, Van Dijk will be aiming to solidify his tag as one of the best players in his position in world football.
Stars missing in action
While Messi, Neymar, Kane and others will all be on the plane to the Middle East, several other star names will have to be content with watching the action from home.
Italy’s shock exit to North Macedonia in the UEFA qualifiers means that Jorginho, Marco Verratti and the rest of their Euro 2020-winning teammates will not be in Qatar.
Mohamed Salah will be absent too, as the Liverpool and Egypt talisman lost out in his battle with Senegal for a qualification place in the African region, in a repeat of the 2022 AFCON final.
The confirmed absentees’ list also includes other household names, with Erling Haaland (Norway), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon), Naby Keita (Guinea) and Edin Dzeko (Bosnia) Victor Osimhen (Nigeria) all staying at home after their countries failed to qualify from their groups.