World Cup 2022
Nepal has never featured in the World Cup finals, but the country’s love for football reaches fever pitch every time the quadrennial sporting showpiece comes around.
Nepali football fans fulfill their aspirations rooting for foreign teams and iconic players.
Twenty-eight years ago, a group of students at Pulchowk’s Engineering College protested when legendary Argentine footballer Diego Maradona was banned from the 1994 World Cup in the US after testing positive for the banned stimulant ephedrine.
Calling the expulsion ‘illegal and a conspiracy’, the fans burnt an effigy of FIFA leadership, demanding immediate reinstatement of the Argentine captain. However, reinstatement would have been futile, as Argentina were knocked out of the competition after a 3-2 loss to Romania.
The World Cup feast begins this evening with hosts Qatar entertaining Group A rivals Ecuador. The first game kicks off (9:45pm NST) after the opening ceremony at the 60,000-seat Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of the capital city Doha.
In the next 29 days, the world will plunge into wild excitement as 32 nations vie for football's most coveted prize.
High demand for tickets
For the last few months, football fans worldwide have trembled at the thought of one anguishing question: how to get hold of a ticket for the World Cup?
Most of the seats were sold out the moment they went on sale. According to FIFA, fans snapped up close to 3 million tickets by mid-October – almost all of the available spots.
Last-minute sales started on September 27 and will run until the end of the tournament on December 18. Tickets are sold on a first-come, first-served basis.
Ankit Neupane is one of the lucky fans to get hold of a ticket to the England-USA of Group B tie on November 26.
“I can’t wait to see Harry Kane in person up close,” said the 31-year-old IT engineer, a Tottenham Hotspur fan, who purchased the ticket for $107 through FIFA’s online kiosk in September. He is leaving for Doha on Friday.
“I expect them to do better than in Russia four years ago and win their second title this time,” he said. England won the World Cup in 1966 with the hosts beating West Germany 4-2 in the final.
More passionate Nepali football fans are travelling to Qatar to watch the action live.
Baburaj Joshi always wanted to watch football's biggest showpiece from the stands. He is travelling to Doha next week to watch Germany-Costa Rica game on December 2
Joshi’s son, who stays in Darmstadt, Germany, will join him in the Qatari capital for the match.
But they have divided loyalties.
“I’m flying down to Doha on my son’s invitation. But I am rooting for Costa Rica,” said Joshi senior.
Nor is the 70-year-old former school teacher cheering on Brazil – usually the universal favourites for a neutral. Brazil are the only team to have won the tournament five times.
“They should be content with five titles. It’d be interesting to see a new winner,” he said, taking a funny potshot at the country’s leadership with incumbent Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba eyeing the hot seat for the sixth time.
“Croatia nearly pulled it off in Russia four years ago. Hopefully, we’ll see that this time around in Qatar.”
European and Latin American teams almost always dominate.
It could be last chance for Argentina legend Lionel Messi to sign off the game in grandeur. A World Cup is the only elusive title in his otherwise glorious career.
In 2002, France failed to make it out of the group stage, following their maiden tournament victory at home in 1998. Under coach Didier Deschamps, Les Blues will be hoping to do an encore while beating the defending champions’ jinx.
There is a 'dark horse' in every World Cup. Senegal, the African champions, could fulfil the role in Qatar. But expectations are often a double-edged sword.
No other team may have faced as much home pressure as England during international tournaments. They have come close in the last two tournaments, losing to Croatia in the 2018 World Cup semi-finals and Italy in the 2020 Euro final.
An unprecedented 1.2 million people, equivalent to nearly half of Qatar's population, are expected to visit the Gulf emirate. A total of 64 matches will be played in eight stadiums across the country. This World Cup in Qatar is the most expensive in football history. Qatar splurged a whopping $220 billion for this event – 14 times more than the next most expensive. Brazil spent $14 billion for the 2014 World Cup.
Beset with controversies
Long before the first kick of the ball, hosts Qatar have been busy defending one scathing attack after another. From poor inhuman treatment of migrant workers to LGBTQ+ issues to a ban on the sale of liquor at stalls outside the venues – the tiny peninsula has been beset by a raft of controversies.
Sepp Blatter, the former FIFA president, has admitted the decision to award Qatar with the 2022 World Cup was a “mistake”. The 2018 and 2022 tournaments were awarded to Russia and Qatar in 2010 when he was at the helm of the game’s world governing body.
In an interview with the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger, Blatter conceded, “The choice of Qatar was a mistake.”
“It’s too small a country. Football and the World Cup are too big for that,” he added and when pressed on whether he felt responsible for the decision, he added: “For me it is clear. Qatar is a mistake.”
But it’s 12 years too late; the toothpaste is out of the tube. So, as hundreds of thousands of fans descend on Doha from all corners of the world, the man in black blows the whistle: Let the games begin.
The group draw in December 2021 has already resulted in some mouth-watering encounters. The most notable matches, including Spain v Germany on November 27 and Belgium taking on Croatia on December 1. And on November 30, the USA play Iran in a match fraught with political underpinnings.
While ardent and rich fans travel to Qatar to watch their favourite teams in action at the stadiums, millions watch the action live indoors on television or hand-held devices.
Group-stage games will start at 3.45pm, 6.45pm, 9.45pm and 12.45am. Eight of the group games in the final round are slated to begin at 8.45pm.
The fixtures for the first two knockout rounds will alternate between slots at 8.45pm and 12.450am, while both semi-finals are scheduled to kick off at 12.45am. The final, on December 18, will take place at 8.45pm.
Football on menu
While Qatar may be the world's capital, the madness also catches on here in Kathmandu Valley. Restaurants in and around town are getting their party face on – with the atmospheric volume pumping up from sedately tropical to riotously football.
Giant projector screens are set to be a common sight, with football being the main item on the menu.
For many football fans, the spectacle of the World Cup is an indulgence they look forward to once every four years.
Croissant, a restaurant in Thapathali, has revised its menus to include Ronaldo’s Strike, Mbappe’s Thrust, Van Dyke’s Tackle, De Bruyne’s Through, Messi’s Goal and Lewandowski’s Header.
“Ronaldo’s Strike, a sandwich made of cucumber, tomato, onion, red pepper, seasoned olive oil and garlic soup is a favourite with the city’s youth,” said Sambhavit Shrestha, a co-owner of the restaurant.
“But our costliest dish is De Bruyne’s Through, fried jumbo prawns served with herbal rice.”