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MALTATODAY 20 November 2022

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12 NEWS World Cup 2022 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 13 NOVEMBER 2022 Controversial but irresistible: Qatar's winter World Cup is finally here THE beautiful game's biggest compe- tition starts today, and despite being marred by controversy, football fans are still looking forward to seeing the world's best compete for the ultimate prize. This will be the first World Cup to be held in the Arab world, and the second World Cup held entirely in Asia after the 2002 tournament in South Korea and Japan. That has meant a shift to a winter schedule, which has not gone down well with many fans and has had knock-on effects for other football competitions such as the European leagues. The build-up has also been dominated by significant controversy over Qatar's record on human rights, the deaths of thousands of migrant workers in the years since the Gulf state was awarded the World Cup, and the treatment of LGBT+ people. How was the tournament awarded to Qatar? The bidding process started in 2009, with Qatar, USA, Australia, South Ko- rea, and Japan being the potential host nations. Two members of the Executive Com- mittee, Amos Adamu and Reynald Te- marii, were suspended in the run-up to the vote amid allegations of corruption. Despite being graded by FIFA as hav- ing "high operational risks", the Qatar bid received the most votes, beating the USA's proposal 14-8 in the final round. As soon as Qatar won the bid, con- cerns grew about the high tempera- tures in the country during the summer months, with an average daily temper- ature of 42°C in July. This led FIFA to recommend the tournament being hosted in winter. But temperatures in Qatar remain very high with average highs of 29 Cel- sius in November and 25 in December. That means that seven of eight open air stadiums will be airconditioned. Ronaldo and Messi's last dance The 2022 World Cup will probably be the last for arguably the two great- est players to play the game – Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. When Messi and Ronaldo took to the stage of the 2006 World Cup, aged 18 and 21 respectively, the footballing world could never have imagined the duo's legacy at domestic and interna- tional level. With a total of 12 Ballon d'Ors, nine Champions Leagues, 18 domestic ti- tles and seven club world cups between them, winning the ultimate prize in football would be the cherry on the cake for their stellar careers. Both Messi and Ronaldo have won their respective continental champion- ship with Argentina and Portugal, and getting their hands on the FIFA World Cup could help settled the greatest of all time debate. Of course, it's entirely possible that Argentina and Portugal could go all the way to the World Cup final, an ear- ly Christmas present for football fans across the world, with many wishes of a Messi vs. Ronaldo showdown coming on the biggest stage of all. The pair could also meet in the semi-fi- nals should either team win their group and the other finish second, whilst there is also the unlikely event that football's two most recognised stars meet in the third-place playoff match; the latter scenario would at least likely make it the most watched World Cup consola- tion match in history. Young players take the stage The World Cup always saw young players rise to the stardom, with the competition being the perfect stage to show-off their skills to the world. England's Jude Bellingham is tearing it up in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund, and is touted for a big-mon- ey move to one of Europe's big club in the summer. A good performance should help drive his fee to new height. Barcelona's Gavi and Pedri won the coveted Golden Boy award in consecu- tive years, and are expected to light up the Spanish midfield should Louis Enri- que fit them in his starting 11. The Netherlands' Cody Gakpo is also KARL AZZOPARDI

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