Friday round-up: Some more World Cup thoughts …

Good morning to all. Some quick bits of Friday.

There were some Arsenal players in action yesterday. Granit Xhaka played when Ghana beat Switzerland 2-0, but from what I see, Thomas Partey did not participate. Martin Odegaard was providing assists in Dublin when Norway beat Ireland 2-1, and Kieran Tierney played (Wednesday) when Scotland lost to Turkey.

I’ve written a bit about this World Cup this week, but I haven’t mentioned much about football itself. An interesting aspect of this tournament is that the players arrive at it in optimal conditions. In previous years, the best players have been doing it all season. Playing for their clubs in multiple competitions, playing and traveling for international matches on top of that, and they have always had a full and grueling season under their belt.

Not just physical exhaustion, but there must be mental fatigue for some of them as well. Imagine spending the season in a title battle and missing it right at the end. So even though you’re a professional and that’s the job, you’re supposed to compartmentalize that and get motivated again for something different. I’m sure there are players who can do it perfectly well, but there are others who find that aspect difficult.

Even if his season has been lackluster, or unremarkable, he still has a full campaign under his belt before further training with his national team, and by the time he plays in the World Cup there must be an element of exhaustion involved. This one is different. Players are coming in having played quite a bit due to the hectic schedule, but nothing close to 50 or 60 games, as would be the case when you play a summer World Cup.

It’s interesting to consider how that will affect things. Will we see a more competitive tournament? Will this be a great equalizer? Where previously the best talent could overcome slightly tired legs, those players will find it harder to shine on the world stage. I guess we’ll find out in the next few weeks.

Aside from the football itself, I also think it will be fascinating to see what happens throughout this tournament. Obviously things on the field are very important, but we know there are many things off the field as well. I’m not even getting down to the moral dilemmas we find ourselves wrestling with to one extent or another, but there will be soccer fans from all over the world.

You will no doubt have seen what happened earlier in the week with a Danish television crew, and American journalist Grant Wahl was forced to delete a photo he took… of the World Cup logo on the wall of the media center :

In isolation, those things might be seen as not particularly bothersome, not much of a problem in the grand scheme of things, but football fans who gather in droves can be… feisty, shall we say. To be fair, I don’t think there are as many fans in Qatar as in previous tournaments. It’s expensive to get there, accommodation is also expensive, and I think the feeling that it’s a gathering for, if you’ll excuse the silly phrase, the ‘football family’ is almost completely absent from this World Cup.

Now, The Times reports this morning:

Just three days before kick-off, hosts Qatar last night pressured FIFA to do a U-turn on beer policy at the World Cup and stop selling Budweiser in the eight stadiums that host the matches.

An announcement is expected today, but it is understood that 48 hours before Qatar take on Ecuador in the tournament opener on Sunday, fans are likely to be told they cannot buy beer at any game.

Insert your own joke here about how saving people from Budweiser is doing them a favor etc, but this kind of last minute edict, having previously agreed to sell alcohol at the tournament, only makes you wonder what else could change. Remember that LGBTQ+ fans were told they would be perfectly fine to go, as long as they weren’t too gay, of course, but if Qatar’s rulers are willing to implement a last-minute change, which will infuriate a key patron and will breach a contract worth hundreds of millions, would you feel safe being a fan in a country where your sexuality is criminalized?

And look, beer and alcohol are not the be all and end of life or football, but it is the way this decision has been made so late in the day. Qatar agreed when it made a World Cup bid that it would be available in certain areas around the stadiums, and now it appears to have changed that.

Obviously I hope nothing bad happens during this tournament. I hope everyone who goes has a great time, and in the documentary FIFA Uncovered, which I highly recommend, Hassan Al-Thawadi (Secretary General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy in the Qatar 2022 committee) spoke openly about how the country it was known for its hospitality and the welcome it provides to visitors.

However, if a film crew and a journalist doing mundane things cause a few ripples in the Qatari authorities, how will the pulses of hundreds or thousands of fans quicken? Again, like football, I guess we’ll find out.

Ok, I’ll leave it there for now. There’s a new Arsecast for you below, with Arsenal chat and the inevitable World Cup chat. I’m joined by @ryanhunn from @stadio for that. Listen happy.

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