Will the World Cup really never be the same again?

From Russia’s stunning 5-0 win in the opening game to a six-goal thriller final that had everything, this year’s FIFA World Cup™ was in many ways the perfect send off for the tournament as we know it.

Incredible goals, shock early exits, dramatic late winners and just the one 0-0 draw – we couldn’t have asked for much more from a month’s worth of footballing entertainment.

We now face the biennial feeling of post-tournament blues. Having been spoilt with at least one game virtually every day for the last four weeks, we’re left twiddling our thumbs until the new club season kicks into gear, and even then nothing will quite replace the euphoria, exhilaration and elation that Russia 2018 brought us.

What makes this feeling that bit worse is the worry that perhaps we won’t get such a great World Cup ever again.

We’ve known for nearly eight years now that it would be Qatar that will host the 2022 edition of the tournament, and it has now been confirmed that for the first time ever the action will unfold in November and December. As a result, the tournament will have a completely different feel around it.

Lusail stadium
The Lusail Iconic Stadium, set to be the largest venue in Qatar, is currently under construction.

The summer, for me, is the perfect time of year for a World Cup. It’s festival season, and the World Cup is the biggest festival of them all, with the warm weather amplifying the high spirits. Barbecues, beer gardens and big screens in the park are all cornerstones of watching the World Cup in the UK – cups of hot chocolate flying everywhere as the rain pours down doesn’t have quite the same appeal to it.

The World Cup also feels like the culmination of the season, the cherry on top of the cake. Domestic leagues have been won, the Champions League victor has been crowned, then the World Cup provides the most spectacular finale imaginable. It’s something to look forward to. Summers without major tournaments are bad enough, let alone a summer when there should be a major tournament but there isn’t.

The tournament will return to June and July in 2026, but will still not feel ‘normal’, due to inclusion of 48 teams for the first time. Whilst the format of 16 groups of three countries will provide the most fixtures a World Cup has ever seen (80), it will be a much more drawn-out affair, lessening the current nature of games in close proximity to one another.

2026 bid
It was confirmed last month that Canada, Mexico and the USA would host the first 48-team World Cup in 2026.

There’ll be no more Spain versus Portugal or England versus Belgium style clashes early on either, with the meetings of bigger nations in the group stages or even Round of 32 seeming pretty unlikely. Upon the European Championships’ expansion to 24 teams in 2016, it was often commented that the quality of games decreased, with a fair bit of parking the bus on show. China against DR Congo might sound like an heartwarming underdog match, but the novelty would wear off after the opening half an hour.

It’s not particularly pleasing thinking about the World Cup in such a negative light, especially when it only comes around every four years, so it is worth remembering that this year’s tournament wasn’t meant to be that good either. Continuing claims of corruption, political tensions and concerns over hooliganism marred the build-up, but when the action kicked off we were left with little to worry about.

It proved that football really can solve, or at least temporarily hide, all exterior problems. It doesn’t matter when, where or who’s involved, the beautiful game will always provide a spectacle. It might be in a different way to what has come before, and it might take some getting used to, but you can be sure that when November 21st 2022 rolls around fans around the globe won’t be able to contain their excitement for the feast of football ahead. It will certainly be a unique World Cup, and the extra five month wait might even make us more hungry than ever before.

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