The oil-rich nation has gone all out, spending an estimated $200 billion (Rs 16.3 lakh crore) as it welcomes fans from 31 nations (1.5 million are expected to attend), sprucing up its museums and public places with works by international artists and opening a new museum devoted to sports: the 3-2-1 Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum.
Indian football fans for a change won’t have to watch matches at an ungodly hour, with the earliest game scheduled at 3.30 pm Indian time and the latest at 12.30 am. In India, Reliance-backed Viacom18 has acquired the rights with matches to be telecast on Sports18 and Sports18HD. JioCinema will stream the matches free.
All eyes expectedly will be on the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, but there’s also a fresh batch of footballers looking to make an impression in the biggest sporting spectacle. Watch out for this talented lot: Germany’s Jamal Musiala, Spain’s Gavi and Pedri (who will turn 20 during the event) and England’s Jude Bellingham. Others with prowess include Rodrygo and Vinicius Jr (Brazil), Lautaro Martinez (Argentina), Phil Foden (England), Frenchmen Jules Kounde and Aurelien Tchouameni, Dutch players Xavi Simons and Cody Gakpo, and Joao Felix of Portugal.
Some of the most defining players of the game will be making their final appearance in the competition. Messi's G.O.A.T (Greatest of All Time) status will be sealed if he wins the elusive trophy that all of Argentina wants. Cristiano Ronaldo arrives in Qatar miffed with his club, Manchester United, and not in the best form, but if there’s a player who can turn a game around single-footedly, it is he. Manuel Neuer has got his hands on the trophy once (2014) but the captain of Germany will want to end his storied career on a high.
Count on Croatian midfielder Luka Modric to split the defence apart with his splendid passes and Polish forward Robert Lewandowski to deliver goals just like he has for FC Barcelona this season. Ballon d'Or winner Karim Benzema will be a key player if France wants to defend their title. Their biggest nemesis is Brazil, who will have 39-year-old Dani Alves in right back.
Group stage matches to watch out for
* Argentina vs Mexico (Sunday, Nov. 27*)
The Copa America champions have their work cut out against a team known for stringing upsets.
* Spain vs Germany (Monday, Nov. 28*)
The 2010 champions take on the 2014 winners.
* Portugal vs Uruguay (Tuesday, Nov. 29*)
It’s Ronaldo vs Luis Suarez in their swan song. Hopefully there will be no blood.
* Wales vs England (Wednesday, Nov. 30*)
The whole of United Kingdom will be watching this with keen interest.
* Croatia vs Belgium (Thursday, Dec. 1*)
Expect a fierce contest between the finalists and third place team of 2018.
*Dates are as per Indian Standard Time
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