GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – The sports event that many consider the largest and most significant in the world, overshadowing both the Olympics and the Super Bowl, is about to elbow aside Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer and Charlie Brown for the next month.
The men’s World Cup, the championship of international football, makes its first winter appearance – it’s usually a summer event – because it is being staged in Qatar, where highs can reach 120 degrees in July but are in the 70s about now.
Maybe you’ve seen the TV commercials featuring “Mad Men” adman Jon Hamm/Don Draper as a young, hip Santa Claus with an array of big-name elves to promote the rare “holiday event.”
The latest date on which a World Cup game has been played was the first final, July 30, 1930, in Uruguay. Since then the latest has been July 20, 1966, in England. You get the idea.
The competition starts Sunday when host Qatar plays Ecuador at 11 a.m., and all 64 games can be found on Fox, FS1, FS2, Telemundo or NBC Universo. They are streamed via fuboTV.
More them half of them (34) will be aired by WGHP-Ch. 8. Because of the time difference – Qatar is eight hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time – all games are during the day, starting as early as 5 a.m. EST but no later than 2 p.m. EST.
There are 32 countries who will play in groups until Dec. 2, seeding 16 teams into a bracket for what the Cup calls the “group knockout phase” that culminates in the final on Dec. 18 at Lusail Iconic Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, one of eight stadiums in five cities to host games.
The U.S. plays its first game Monday at 2 p.m. against Wales, on WGHP (sorry “Judge Judy” fans). But its first “big game” will be on Nov. 25, when the U.S. National Team plays England at 2 p.m. So if season-finale college football games or Black Friday shopping don’t command your attention, you have an alternative to get your kicks.
Here are three important insights. First, Ted Lasso doesn’t coach any of those 32 teams. Second: There are lots of terms that likely are a foreign language to you. Here is a list of terms that might help you sound smart. Third, be glad you are watching from home.
With the event in Qatar with its restrictive laws, the big story, pushed out on mobile devices early Friday morning and the cause of an email alert about breaking news coverage from The Associated Press, concerns the decision by organizers to ban the sale of all beer with alcohol at all eight stadiums.
World Cup fans are known to be well-swilled. Qatar is a Muslim nation. FIFA, the oversight organization, has a delicate situation because Budweiser is a title sponsor.
This was all very much last-call, too. We could imagine that some fans from, say, England or Germany, might want a refund.
5 things to know about the World Cup
1. How does this elimination process work?
The 32 countries are from six continents and had to qualify to be in the event. Those 32 are placed into eight groups of four teams, who will play each other in a round-robin process. The top two teams in each group advance to the knockout round. The USA is in Group B, along with England, Iran and Wales.
2. How long has this thing been going on?
There were 13 nations that gathered in Uruguay, and the host team won, beating Argentina, 4-2. Uruguay also won in 1950, beating Brazil, 2-1. The event has been staged every four years since 1930 except during World War II (no games between 1938 and 1950). In 2018, France beat Croatia, 4-2, in Russia. Brazil has been the dominant nation, winning five World Cups and losing in the final two other times. But Brazil hasn’t won since 2002. Germany is next at 4/4, last winning in 2014. The USA’s record in the World Cup record is inauspicious, with the team having never even reached a final. This is not to be confused with the U.S. women’s team, which has won the World Cup four times, most recently in 2019.
3. Has the USA ever hosted the World Cup?
Yes, in 1994, 24 countries competed in the U.S., with games played in the biggest football stadium in nine cities across the country: San Francisco, Detroit, New York, Dallas, Chicago, Orlando, Boston and Washington, D.C. The final was at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, and Brazil defeated Italy in the first Cup final to include extra time (overtime, in American parlance) and to be decided by a missed penalty kick. The Cup will return to the U.S. in 2026, with games at 16 stadiums across North America, including Mexico City and Vancouver, British Columbia.
4. Which team is favored this time?
The names of contending teams seldom seem to change in the World Cup. Fox assembled a panel of experts, and most appeared to think France – with two of the 10 best players – could repeat as champion. But all-time winner Brazil, and perennial power Germany got mentions as well. And then there were some who suggested Lionel Messi and Argentina would deliver the Cup. Denmark, England, Uruguay and Senegal were among their dark-horse contenders. If you like odds, Argentina is at 5-1. The U.S. team’s odds? 150-1. If you believe in predictions, someone entered a final on the Wikipedia page, showing England over France, 2-0. You can write it down.
5. Who are the best players?
Two of the greatest players in the world – perhaps in the history of soccer – could be playing in their final World Cup: Argentina’s Messi and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Both men have dominated their sport for decades, but neither has won a World Cup. Ronaldo is 37, and Messi is 35. Others joining them among the top 10 players: Kylian Mbappe’ of France, Neymar of Brazil, Kevin De Bruyne of Belgium, Robert Lewandowski of Poland, Karim Benzema of France, Harry Kane of England, Virgil van Dijk of Netherlands and Thibaut Courtois of Belgium. The best player for the U.S.? That would appear to be Christian Pulisic, who was ranked 24th best in the event. He’s 24, from Hershey, Pennsylvania, and plays for famed Chelsea in the Premier League. He has posted 21 goals in 52 caps (international matches).