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The magical allure of the FIFA World Cup
A plethora of sports possess a World Cup to showcase the talents of athletes around the planet, or at least they lay claim to that. They all have huge importance to their respective sports and the nations that take part in the competition. Stadiums fill up for these tournaments, with the hope their home country can end up victorious in a grand manner. Yet, despite all these glowing recommendations of sport being at its very best on these stages, nothing captivates us more than the FIFA World Cup. In recent times, there have been ludicrous claims that the Champions League is the best tournament in the world due to the immense quality on show. Pundits such as Gary Neville and Gary Lineker have made that very point live on air at times in years gone by. However, people making points like this are missing the wood for the trees. Just like the beautiful game itself, there is more to what meets the eye at the FIFA World Cup.
With FIFA’s relatively recent move to expand the World Cup to 48 teams from 2026 onwards, there has been a lot of chat among sports bars as to what is the point of such a move. At least in the World Cups that I have been alive for, bigger score lines have become far more frequent. For God’s sake, one of the scores no one will ever forget is the 7-1 in Belo Horizonte on 8 July four years ago. By including more teams, there is the fear that the gap between the best footballing nations and those with far less talent in their ranks will be visible to the public and will leave more nations with egg on their face. Despite that possibility, we should also look at the joy it brings a nation when a group of 23 players go out in front of billions of people. Rio Ferdinand articulated it perfectly when talking about many of the nations that participated for the first time in the European Championships two years ago. “They just can’t believe they’re here.” As painful as it may be for many England fans to revisit that time, watching the thunderclap from the Icelandic fans just made you realise what football can mean to people. That is likely to be the case in Russia if Mo Salah can recover in time for Egypt’s games. It gives a chance for the common man and woman to see their heroes and remove themselves away from their daily labours and struggles. However, meaning and emotion is not the only draw for the FIFA World Cup.
Another criticism directed towards FIFA has been the allocation of hosting responsibilities for tournaments, particularly in reference to Russia and Qatar. I am not even looking at the corruption scandal that is involved in this situation. There was a huge amount of controversy regarding the so-called “lesser footballing nations” getting the chance to hold such a prestigious tournament. Pundits and journalists alike were stating that the World Cup should “come back” to countries like England, France and Spain. Nevertheless, it should not be forgotten that the World Cup is exactly what it says on the tin. A tournament that belongs to the world, not just the elite few. Therefore, this diversification of the tournament should be embraced and the authorities should like a wider range of countries being given that opportunity. This is because even though football holds so much importance across Europe, it may turn out to be a lifesaver for others across Asia, South America and many other places. Therefore, rather than look for the negatives in the new changes of this wonderful tournament, look at the happiness it causes in the opposite side of the world, such as it did in South Africa eight years ago.
So, only eight more nights remain till all of the world watches the 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup. Just like a fine wine, enjoy it because the tournament is getting better with age.