Cape Town – Doing something for the first time often stirs up highly contrasting emotions. The apprehension of a first day at a new school. The pride of being the first to graduate in the family. The excitement of holding your firstborn.
We, South Africans, know all about that first time. Like when we were the first country on the African continent to host the Fifa World Cup in 2010.
Everyone thought we couldn’t do it. The doomsayers, particularly from “First World” countries, never gave us a chance. How could a country, just 16 years into its democracy, open its doors to the world?
Twelve years on, and there are still people with “Waka Waka” as their mobile ringtone, in memory of when they embraced an African World Cup.
For me, Qatar 2022 will be no different. The fear of the unknown is often what holds us back from truly life-enriching experiences.
All the negative media attention leading up to the first World Cup in the Middle East, related to human rights violations in the building of the stadiums, is entirely justified.
And hopefully with the global spotlight having firmly been cast on the Gulf nation’s migrant labour policies, there will be gross reform going forward.
But from here-on, arriving in Qatar and the first whistle blows at the 60 000-capacity Al Bayt stadium for the opening game between the hosts and Ecuador, football fans will be treated to hospitality like no other.
“Marhaban Bikum Illaa Qatar” as the locals would say. “Welcome to Qatar everyone!”
The Qataris have gone to exceptional lengths to produce a first-world experience for everyone, both on and off the field.
Having last visited the Arab state in 2019, I can personally attest to the first-rate hospitality I experienced.
Ultimately though, it's the football on the field that everyone is there for. And with it also being the first time a World Cup will be held mid-European season, we can expect an extraordinary show with players in peak condition and not suffering from post-season fatigue.
In this edition, we preview all 32 teams’ chances across the eight groups, and focus our cover story on whether Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi’s “Last Dance” will end in a blaze of glory for Portugal and Argentina respectively, or will the young guns Kylian Mbappé and Vinicius Jnr steal the show for France and Brazil?
We also reminisce with IOL Sport Live Editor John Goliath, who will be on the ground in Qatar, about “The Beautiful Game” back in 2010, when we all lived our best lives.