The greatest show on Earth
Kylian Mbappe (Photo: AP)

I have already drawn up my armchair to secure a comfortable seat in front of the TV for the World Cup which started on Sunday, November 20.

World Cup brings out a nice feeling of belonging, not just to your favoured country, but to the world. It is a certainty that we will be seeing good football from every team and, even if our country is not in the draw, we can empathise with the effort, the skills, the talents, and the incredible stories behind every team that made it through the qualifiers to reach where they are now.

Taking place in Doha, the capital city of host nation Qatar, the event is already chockfull of controversies similar to the question marks and raised eyebrows when Fifa awarded the games to the desert nation on December 2, 2010.

Word is still on the streets of alleged under-the-table negotiations to secure the bid. Nevertheless, the magic of the World Cup has drawn 32 nations and the best football players in the world to meet and compete for 29 days on the sands of the oil-rich nation.

Ronaldo (Photo: AFP)

And Qatar has rolled out a royal hospitality carpet for the over 1,000,000 visitors expected, laid out a number of spectacular cultural and entertainment attractions, and constructed eight Space-Age air-conditioned stadiums to house the fans queuing to watch the matches.

Never mind the no-alcohol limitations — beer may be sold before and after matches. Never mind the quaint and inflexible Middle Eastern rules. Never mind the head scarves and flowing robes. World Cup football will hold the nations in the palm of its hands November 20 to December 3.

With the bidding still shrouded in controversy, the cloak and dagger burlesque for special privileges denied, the resurrection of Sepp Blatter who was seen at a World Cup game in Russia on the invitation of, guess who; and the hookah smoking and Arabian Nights ambience, it's a dreamlike atmosphere set off by the referee's whistle and the kick-off at 11:00 am our time on Sunday.

The opening match was contested between Qatar and Ecuador in the Al Bayt Stadium.

Jamal Musiala.

The stadiums, built at a cost of US$10 million, are surreal in their splendour. Consider this: Themed on the traditional Arab tent style, the Al Bayt Stadium is probably the most advanced sports stadium on the face of the planet. It features a retractable roof, a partially retractable pitch and retractable stands, making it the best football pitch ever.

As pictures of the stadiums come into view, my poor little armchair will probably 'keel over', and my fan fades into obscurity when I hear that stadium seats will be cooled using air pumped at the spectator ankle zone at a temperature of 18ºC.

So Qatar is ready, even if I am not.

Who do you fancy to win? Like most Jamaicans I favour Brazil, but the front line is crowded with the European big wigs Spain, France, Germany, England, Portugal and Belgium all gunning for the title.

First, there is defending champion France. France has a serious problem with injuries forcing out the likes of Paul Poga and N'gola Kante, but will feature one of the deadliest attacks with Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema and Antoine Griezmann spearheading the front line.

Al Bayt Stadium.

Belgium could bring off a surprise according to the experts. They also have a star-studded roster of veteran talent from superstar striker Romelu Lukaku all the way back to goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

Football lovers who regard Ronaldo as their hero may be in for a disappointment. Portugal has been struggling in recent times and are not expected to make it into the final rounds.

Germany remains one of the best organised teams and will be leaning on the sensational youth star Jamal Musiala who, at 19 years, brings dexterous game-changing agility to the table. As they say, don't take your eyes off him, for he will surely dazzle.

Then there is Spain, also on the front line. Spanish hopes for glory will likely pivot on the performances of Pedro González López, who turns 20 in November 25, and is considered one of the world's most promising midfield young player.

England is one to watch, having made it to the Euro 2020 final, with Harry Kane now dreaming of lifting the Cup for England for the first time since 1966. Once again a Jamaican among the stars on the international stage as Raheem Sterling is said to be the one who can lead England to victory.

As an aside, another Jamaican also featured strongly in England's World Cup fortunes in that famous 'hand of God' Maradona moment when England met Argentina in the quarter finals of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

A frustrated England was in turmoil following Maradona's slick hand touch which nicked the ball over the head of the goalkeeper and into goal.

Four minutes later Maradona dribbled past five of their players to score a sensational (and legal) goal which became known as the "goal of the century".

But, yes, there had to be a Jamaican connection here, as it was only when our John Barnes came on in the second half that England finally threatened. Barnes set up a goal with a cross from the left side for Gary Lineker to score, and repeated five minutes later with another brilliant pass to the centre, which was flunked by the forward line.

However, according to Sports Illustrated, the real 'final' will come in the semis between Brazil and Argentina. In one of its speculative combinations, the football Bible has called on seven leading analysts who have all given the nod to a South America sweep, with Brazil getting the edge.

Jamaicans will love this. After all, our wonder boy Neymar, who was marked out of the game in the 2018 finals, is now playing like he's finally ready to achieve his World Cup potential. Add Thigo Silva, Dani Alves, Gabriel Jesus, and Fabinho and you are already talking up a dream team. But watch what happens when Lionel Messi takes the field for his final match against his rivals. As one fan puts it, what an end it would be to a dazzling international career for Messi if he takes home the gold. I am sure few would begrudge the Argentinan such a farewell.

Two outsiders are on my wish list, Croatia and the Netherlands. Croatia because, despite being victims of the Balkan Wars, they have consistently reached the final rounds since 1998 when they beat Jamaica 3-1 in France (we were both minnows), and have gone on to reach the knockout rounds in every competition thereafter barring 2010.

The Dutch team introduced me to live World Cup action on television when I watched them play West Germany in the 1974 finals. Johan Cryuff led the Netherlands (Germany won 2-1) and received the Golden Ball as player of the tournament. I watched open-mouthed as he tackled and defended in sweeping motions that took him all over the field.

In an earlier match against Sweden he had executed a 'pop' that left everybody standing. The feint was subsequently named after him as the "Cryuff Turn" — a move still widely replicated in the modern game. The move became instantly world-famous, seared indelibly on the brain, stored forever and available for replay on your mind's eye-player.

I am now back in my armchair seat, air-conditioned stadium or no, and preparing for a month's engagement with the greatest show on Earth. There are many more fabulous stories like the Cryuff Turn waiting to be unveiled for our enjoyment. So let the games begin!

Lance Neita is a public relations professional and writer. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or lanceneita@hotmail.

Lance Neita

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