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Qatar’s World Cup gets real as Doha hosts tournament draw

DOHA (AFP) – The countdown towards the most controversial World Cup in history really begins today as the draw for Qatar 2022 takes place in Doha, less than eight months before the start of the tournament itself.

As pandemic restrictions ease, some of football’s biggest names will be there for the draw at a Doha convention centre among the skyscrapers of the city’s West Bay district, as holders France and their rivals find out who they will face in the group stage of the first World Cup to be held in November and December.

The dust has still not settled on qualifying, with final matches in the North, Central American and Caribbean zone only concluding late on Wednesday and three berths to be decided in play-offs in June.

Seedings for the draw are based on the latest FIFA world rankings published yesterday, and the seven highest-ranked qualifiers, including France, are in Pot One along with the host nation, despite Qatar being one of the lowest-ranked participants.

The tiny Gulf state of under three million people stunned the planet when it won the right to host the World Cup at a vote in 2010, leading to accusations of vote-buying – which were hotly denied – and questions over the country’s suitability.

People outside the countdown clock for the 2022 World Cup at the seafront of the Qatari capital Doha. PHOTO: AP

The obvious issue was the extreme heat in June and July, when the World Cup is traditionally held, and so the decision was taken to move the tournament to the northern hemisphere winter.

Then there has been the criticism of the working conditions of hundreds of thousands of migrant labourers in the country, including those who built the stadiums. That led to the threat from some countries of a boycott.

“It’s ridiculous that we are going to play in a country, how does FIFA say it? To develop football there? It’s about money, commercial interests, that’s the main motive of FIFA,” said Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal recently.

The chief executive of Qatar’s World Cup Supreme Committee, Hassan al-Thawadi, called Van Gaal’s comments “ridiculous”, and FIFA president Gianni Infantino is fully embracing Qatar’s World Cup.

“It will not only be the best World Cup ever, but also a truly unique one,” claimed Infantino, who has even temporarily moved to Doha. “I have never seen a country so ready to host the World Cup as Qatar.”