ARE you ready? The whistles and the cards are set to go crazy as a desert-nation, which gained its independence in 1971, rather unbelievably, hosts the world’s greatest football event.
No doubt, the world of sports will come close to a standstill over the next four weeks as Qatar becomes the first Middle Eastern country to host the tournament, and will also debut the first winter World Cup.
I wonder how the global ball-playing ecosystem will rise from the heartlands of the desert. But the show is set to start on November 20 at the Al Bayt Stadium with football fans waiting rooting for their favourite team, and hopeful for upsets.
As we race towards the first kick off of this tournament, many silvers will look back on some of the drama that unfolded over the past 21 World Cup tournaments.
Some of them share the most memorable games they’d watched, whether it was in a stadium, at home on a television, or online.
Retired police officer Amarjeet Singh will always remember the 1966 World Cup between North Korea and Portugal in England. “Shockingly, North Korea led 3-0 at half-time but the brilliance of striker Eusebio in the second-half even outshone England’s eventual World Cup win.”
“It was an impossible-to-forget quarterfinal match where Eusebio, then the reigning European Footballer of the Year, single-handedly rescued Portugal from defeat, scoring four times as Portugal fought back to win 5-3,” he says. “Sheer brilliance of the highest order and Eusebio later deservedly went on to win the top-scorer award.”
Former award-winning Singapore coach Jita Singh, 72, who’s bringing his family to Qatar, hopes he sees repeat memories of the 1982 World Cup final, played in Spain, between arch-rivals Italy and West Germany.
For 69-year-old housewife Julie Chew, a die-hard England fan, she hopes England will do something after 56 years since they last won the World Cup in 1966 at Wembley. “Now with a younger attack-minded team, let’s hope they concentrate on teamwork instead of individualism,” she says. “If they find their form, I believe England can surprise a lot of the bigger-known teams.”
Former Malaysia Cup striker Simon Fernandez, 68, believes this is Asia’s best giant-killing chance. “Asia cannot play second fiddle and the present infrastructure is perfect for Asia to make world-stunning results if they keep to their overall team discipline. I want a North Korean-styled fighting spirit of the 1966 World Cup to inspire the rest of Asia.”
Likewise, former Singapore midfield star V. Khanisen, 69, a die-hard Germany supporter clearly remembers East Germany beating West Germany 1-0 in 1974. He describes it as “communism versus capitalism”.
Both Fernandez and Khanisen are, however, realistically sticking their necks out for south American giants Brazil, who have consistently shown that they can rise to the biggest occasion.
The 1994 match, where Bulgaria beat Germany 2-1 brings back memories for former Singapore midfielder Rafi Ali, 59.
“Germany were defending champions and looked like maybe being the first nation to repeat since Brazil in 1962. Bulgaria were led by (Barcelona superstar) Hristo Stoichkov and had beaten Mexico to make the quarterfinal. Lothar Matthaeus gave Germany the lead in the second half, but Bulgaria produced an extraordinary comeback.”
So, pray tell me at Qatar 2022, what’s your dream choice? I bet you’re keeping your fingers crossed, too, for your personal favourites because whoever performs with the right mental attitude over 90 minutes can turn the tables.
End of the day, may the best team that rises to the occasion, yes, with a bit of luck, too, carry home the Jules Rimet Trophy.