Football in 2022: To a new dawn and a new day

A delay in the 2021-22 football season might have a catastrophic impact on the coming campaign, which, for the first time, will see an extended winter break for club football to accommodate the winter World Cup, the first to be held in West Asia, from November 21 to December 18 in the oil-rich peninsula of Qatar.

Hoping for the best: A general view of the Lusail Stadium in Qatar, the venue for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Final. The tiny Gulf nation’s hope of hosting the first true global sporting event in the post-pandemic world looks certain to be impacted by the Omicron-led resurfacing of the virus that has seen an unprecedented surge in global coronavirus cases despite the rapid rate of vaccination. The organising committee, however, is still optimistic of hosting a fan-filled World Cup.

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new year, but we are (still) not feeling good.

It is the year of the men’s World Cup, a year of celebration. But an already packed football calendar, with its first-ever World Cup in the winter, has been further wrecked by the redoubling of the COVID19 pandemic, which refuses to ebb two years since its start. A series of Covid-induced cancellations in top European leagues have already created fixture piling and the associations will find it increasingly difficult to end the current season on time. A delay in the 2021-22 football season might have a catastrophic impact on the coming campaign, which, for the first time, will see an extended winter break for club football to accommodate the winter World Cup, the first to be held in West Asia, from November 21 to December 18 in the oil-rich peninsula of Qatar.

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The tiny Gulf nation’s hope of hosting the first true global sporting event in the post-pandemic world looks certain to be impacted by the Omicron-led resurfacing of the virus that has seen an unprecedented surge in global coronavirus cases despite the rapid rate of vaccination. The organising committee, however, is still optimistic of hosting a fan-filled World Cup. “The World Cup is at the end of 2022 and with many people getting vaccinated all over the world, I am sure Qatar will have the fortune of hosting the biggest sporting event after the pandemic. We are also slowly increasing the number of fans in the stadium in accordance to the guidelines provided by the health ministry. We are hopeful of having 100 per cent attendance even before the World Cup starts,” Fatma Al Nuaimi, the executive director of communications at the Supreme Committee of Delivery and Legacy, told Sportstar.

Thirteen nations — including host Qatar and defending champion France — have already qualified, with 19 more to join them in what will be the last 32-team World Cup. However, the quadrennial event will see at least a few heavyweight teams missing out — defending European champion Italy and its predecessor Portugal are locked in the same half of playoff battle to secure the continent’s last few berths. South American powerhouses Chile (sixth) and Uruguay (seventh), too, are not too kindly placed in the CONMEBOL qualifiers. For Argentina, flanked by the two in the Latin American map, the tournament offers an opportunity to end a more than three-decade-long wait to bring home the golden trophy. Lionel Messi and his crew tasted longlast national success with the Copa America win in 2021, and this World Cup offers the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner the final opportunity to enshrine his legacy and claim his rightful throne as the successor to Diego Maradona.

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The African Cup of Nations, set to begin in a few days in Cameroon, will offer a healthy appetiser ahead of the main course as the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Pierre Aubameyang, Riyad Mahrez and a host of other big names from top European Leagues battle to be Africa’s champion. Europe’s best women footballers will compete in the 16-team EURO 2022 between July 6 and July 31 across 10 venues in eight host cities, while India — for the second time — will host the AFC Women’s Asian Cup from January 20 to February 6. The host is placed in Group A with China PR, Chinese Taipei, and Iran.

The top five teams from the12-team event will directly qualify for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in New Zealand and Australia, while two others will move to the inter-confederation playoffs.

The Indian women’s team, led by skipper Loitongbam Ashalata Devi, has put up a string of impressive displays ahead of the tournament, including a credible performance against Copa America Feminina champion Brazil. The team’s Swedish coach, Thomas Dennerby, is optimistic about a positive display from the girls and said: “Let’s take it step by step. Of course, we have a dream, and that starts with us being one among the eight teams in the quarterfinals of the Asian Cup. If we can reach that level, anything can happen. I can only promise everyone that we will go out with a winning mentality and put in a huge effort. And that we will fight with our lives.”

To a new dawn and a new day, then.