|Host nation: Qatar Date: November 20-December 18 Reporting: Live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Sounds and BBC Sport website and app. Day by day TV listings – Full coverage details|
After 12 years of questions, criticism and conjecture, the World Cup in Qatar finally kicks off on Sunday.
The build-up to the first tournament to be held in a Muslim Middle Eastern country has been overshadowed by a number of controversies.
But Fifa has asked all 32 competing nations to do so “focus on football” and hosts Qatar will kick off the tournament against Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium (16:00 GMT).
The home nations who have qualified are in the same group and in action the following day, with England up against Iran (1pm), before Wales play the USA (7pm).
BBC Sport looks at the list of controversies, the excitement building at the ground in Qatar and who could win the World Cup.
What have been the controversies?
Qatar 2022 will be one of the most talked about and controversial World Cups in history.
The Gulf nation beat out bids from South Korea, Japan, Australia and the United States to host the tournament, but there were allegations of widespread corruption in the process, which Qatar has always denied.
In February 2021, the Guardian said that 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had died in Qatar since the country won its World Cup bid.
The figure is based on figures from the countries’ embassies in Qatar.
However, Qatar’s government said the total was misleading, as not all deaths recorded were of people working on World Cup-related projects. The government said its accident records showed there were 37 deaths among workers on World Cup stadium construction sites between 2014 and 2020, of which only three were “work-related”.
However, the International Labor Organization (ILO) said that was an underestimate.
There have been concerns about how LGBT fans can expect to be treated given the country’s strict adherence to Sharia law, with homosexuality illegal in Qatar.
Organizations working with Fifa during the tournament have said that “progress has been slow” and that “problems” remain.
UK Pride organisations have called on bars and stadiums not to show World Cup matches in a boycott of the tournament.
Players have been urged to use their influence to speak out about the problems in the country and at a press conference in Doha on Thursday, England defender Conor Coady said “we are not politicians”.
The Everton defender added: “We’re never going to be political in terms of how we look at things, but in terms of what the squad have done over the last few years and how much they’ve helped people, it comes with the territory.”
Sepp Blatter, who was Fifa’s president and the man who announced the award of the tournament to Qatar in 2010, said last week the decision was a “mistake”.
The day before the tournament, Fifa president Gianni Infantino accused the West of “hypocrisy” in its reporting on Qatar’s human rights.
In a outstanding monologue at a press conference in Doha, Infantino spoke for nearly an hour and made an impassioned defense of Qatar and the tournament.
Summer temperatures often reach 50C here, which is why the tournament was moved to a ‘winter’ location for the first time, although it’s still a balmy 32C during the day and a pleasant 22C in the evening.
It has meant European leagues have been halted mid-season, with the opening game just a week after the last Premier League game between Fulham and Manchester United.
Three months after kick-off, the The Fifa Council approved a request from the South American confederation Conmebol to move the start of the tournament a day earlier than planned.
And just two days before the event, the organizers notified fans would not be able to buy or consume alcohol within or within the perimeter area of any of the eight arenas.
At 29 days from start to finish (20 November to 18 December) this will be the shortest WC since Argentina in 1978.
This means that the organizers have had to schedule four matches on most days during the group stage and that there is no turnaround time between the groups and the knockout stages, with the last 16 starting the day after the group stage ends.
What will the experience be like for supporters?
A country that has a population of less than three million, Qatar expects to see a total influx of around 1.2 million visitors from around the world over the next month.
At a briefing last month, Fifa said almost three million tickets had been sold for the tournament, with the host nation topping the list of countries with the highest number of tickets with 37% of sales.
Traveling around the capital Doha in the days leading up to the opening match, the buzz is palpable with the bunting of flags from each competing country lining the streets.
Argentina shirts are by far the most popular choice of kit on display, mostly emblazoned with ‘Messi 10’ on the back. Lionel Messi – one of the tournament’s star attractions – plays for Qatar-owned Paris St-Germain.
The country has spent billions upgrading its infrastructure and the roads are already busy with locals and supporters from neighboring Saudi Arabia expected to drive across the border. Fifa’s shuttle buses can be seen whizzing up and down the streets.
The subway cars had been quiet early in the week but there was heavy congestion on Friday and Saturday, the public holidays in Qatar. Questions remain about how the system will handle the arrival of tens of thousands of fans for each of the 64 games.
“It’s going to be tough,” an attendant at one of the stations told BBC Sport. “The smaller stops should be OK but it will be tough in the ones where the stadiums are. There are four games a day so it will be extremely busy.”
The fan festival in Al Bidda Park has bright, colorful lights lit overhead, with music pumping out on a nearby performance stage – although this is halted for a couple of minutes when the Adhan (call to prayer) is heard from nearby mosques.
Alcohol cannot be consumed in public in the Muslim country, but this rule has been relaxed a bit for the tournament as fans can buy a drink in restricted areas such as the fan park, however a pint set you back £12.50.
Who will win the World Cup?
Brazil have not won the World Cup since 2002 and are actually the last non-European team to lift the trophy.
Statistician Opt have crunched the numbers and their prediction model says Tite’s men are favorites to go all the way for a record-extending sixth time.
But Lionel Scalonis Argentina have the second-highest probability of becoming champions for the third time, entering the tournament on a 36-game unbeaten run.
Gareth Southgate’s England have been in poor form at the wrong time, without a win in their last six matches, as they look to take a step further from reaching the semi-finals four years ago.
Wales, who are in the same group, have qualified for the tournament for the first time since 1958 and will be aiming to reach the knockout stage again. That year they progressed to the quarter-finals before being narrowly beaten by eventual winners Brazil.
BBC Sport experts have had their say with seven going for Brazil to win it, three for Argentina, two saying France will retain their trophy and just one plumping for England.
A growing injury list
Senegal striker Sadio Mane is one of the star players who will not be seen on the pitches in Qatar.
The ex-Liverpool frontman has undergone surgery on a knee injury he sustained while playing for Bayern Munich just 10 days before the opening game.
Mane joins big names like Paul Pogba (France), Timo Werner (Germany), Reece James (England), Diogo Jota (Portugal) and Giovani Lo Celso (Argentina) who all miss out through injury.
Manchester City striker Erling Haaland and Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah are two of the biggest players who will not be in action as their countries failed to qualify.
How to follow the BBC…
The BBC is your destination for 24/7 coverage – with 33 matches broadcast live as well as live commentary on all 64 matches on BBC Radio 5 Live.
Wales v England will be shown exclusively live on the BBC, along with England’s opening match against Iran and Wales’ crucial match against Carlos Queiroz’s side.
With live video streaming of BBC Sports games and live commentary of every match on the BBC Sounds app, fans can follow the drama across any device.
Fans will be able to watch highlights of every match and every goal on TV, BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sport website.
Get the latest results and goal announcements for all teams at the Fifa World Cup by downloading the BBC Sport app: Apple – Android – Amazon
Get your daily dose of Fifa World Cup reaction, debate and analysis with World Cup Daily on BBC Sounds
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