With the growing amount of content available surrounding this World Cup, and the moral consideration of whether it should even happen, I’m not sure anyone out there would even deign to read this. However, I would like to share a few thoughts on the teams, history and cultural impact of the world’s greatest spectacle. It’s here, we’ve qualified, and who knows – it might be fun to catch a few games crammed in between visits from your relatives.
First of all, how did this happen? Why is the World Cup taking place in winter for the first time ever and in a country, Qatar, that has never qualified for a World Cup? bribery and corruption.
It is well documented that this was a money grab from the recipients of those bribes, compounded by the horrific treatment of the workers who build the stadiums and facilities. Perhaps we need to be aware that this has always been the case in global sport, from Hitler’s 1936 Olympics to the 1962 and 1978 World Championships hosted by military juntas in Chile and Argentina to the slaughter of students in Mexico city on the eve of the 1968 Olympics, to the continued appalling treatment of Tibetan monks in China during the hosting of both summer and winter games, to Putin’s journey to Sochi.
As we prepare to host the 2026 World Cup, let’s also remember that our own past isn’t so clean either, from, um, actual slavery to the inaction of our own governments in the face of gun violence or our support of dictatorships around the world World World during the Cold War.
However, if we get over sports laundering and corruption, global sport has given us some of the indelible positive and unifying moments in our shared history. Jesse Owens’ gold medals, Bob Beamon’s jump, Pele’s goals, Maradona’s insane run through an unfortunate English defense, Franz Klammer’s fall down a mountainside, the 1980 ‘Miracle on Ice’ and Carly’s bombshell Lloyd from the center line deliver indelible, remember moments of the most positive kind to the world. So yes, we’ll be watching and it’s going to be glorious!
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The groups offer some interesting encounters, starting with Group A, with the unknown number of hosts Qatar, the return of the Netherlands after missing out on 2018 (see, it’s not just us!) and Ecuador. Despite their lack of World Cup history, host nations have traditionally excelled in their performances – see England 1966, France 1998 and South Korea 2002. Pay attention to Qatar, despite its wallets, home field advantage, five-star suites for referees and its recent naturalized citizens who narrowly miss the advance of Senegal and the Netherlands.
Group B is the most interesting group, with historical rivalries, social squabbles, and long-absent guests—and no, I’m not describing the Cope Thanksgiving dinner table! The highlight of this group is certainly the game between the USA and England on Black Friday at 12:00 p.m. MST. On paper this game should be fairly easy for England with their quality and showing up in last summer’s Euros final, but they have traditionally struggled against the USA, leaving America at the top of the group.
Previously, Joe Gaetjens and the Heroes of 1950 sent England “home before the postcards” from Brazil. Not to mention the brave upstarts and young team we had in 1776 with manager George Washington, captain Alexander Hamilton and champion motivator Thomas Paine. Once again we have a “young, rugged and hungry” team representing a country where, in the words of the great Men in Blazers program, football has been “the sport of the future” since 1972!
Another intriguing matchup in this group will be USA vs Iran. The regime in Iran is dealing with an uprising in the country following the death of Kurdish woman Gina Amini, who was being held after being arrested by vice squads. The government has barely been able to control the protests in its country and has disciplined and left out some foreign-based actors who had expressed support for women’s rights in Iran.
In 1998 I was at the USA vs Iran game when similar riots took place in Iran as the 20th anniversary of the revolution approached and the US embassy was taken hostage. Most of the Iranian fans who attended the game were Iranian refugees and exiles from the United States and Europe, who paradoxically supported the team while protesting against their government at the stadium. Expect similar gestures this time in a potentially intriguing clash on November 29.
Rounding out the group are Wales, who heartbreakingly eliminated an inspirational team from Ukraine in a playoff qualifier in the early days of the war with Russia – back when we didn’t know if Ukraine would still be around by the time the World Cup started . We hope that one day Ukraine can pull it off and take out Russia. Wales are making their first appearance since 1958 when they were eliminated en route to the first of their incredible three World Cup trophies by a goal from 17-year-old Pele, a seemingly untouchable record. Make sure Wales have the best national anthem and fans of the tournament.
Groups C, D, E, F and H will be featured in Monday’s Vail Daily.