Three football legends who between them have participated in 12 FIFA World Cups believe this year’s edition in Qatar will offer an unmatched experience for players and fans.
Qatar’s compact nature means everyone will be in the thick of the action throughout the 28-day tournament, which kicks off at Al Bayt Stadium on 21 November. The longest distance between stadiums is just 75km, while tournament venues and fan attractions are all close to central Doha, where the majority of fans will stay during the event.
Bora Milutinovic has managed at five editions of the World Cup – with Mexico (1986), Costa Rica (1990), USA (1994), Nigeria (1998) and China (2002). He is the first head coach to take four teams beyond the first round and led Mexico to the quarter-finals on home soil, which equalled their best performance in the tournament.
Milutinovic believes Qatar’s compact tournament will be a huge boost for the 32 competing teams.
“Travelling can be a big problem for teams – lots of time wasted and the players struggle to stay focused. It’s very detrimental,” said Milutinovic. “That’s why the World Cup in Qatar is a dream – because you don’t need to travel. All the matches will be played in a small area – in one day you could watch two World Cup games. There are no long journeys, everything is close by. It is the great advantage of a country like Qatar. Everything is set up to help the players play great football.”
Tim Cahill appeared and scored in four World Cups for Australia. Now living in Qatar and working for Aspire Academy, Cahill believes Qatar 2022 will have an Olympics-style feel for players and fans.
“I’ve been fortunate to play in Olympic Games so I know what it’s like to be close to the training ground and stadiums,” said Cahill, who is also a Qatar Legacy Ambassador. “It’s going to be unique for players in the World Cup to be comfortable, to relax. You will also be close to your family, which is something you don’t usually have at a World Cup.”
Cahill continued: “The compact tournament will benefit players as they can focus on looking after themselves. You wake up, have breakfast, go to the training ground. The stadiums are really close and the training facilities are state-of-the-art. I think it’ll have a really positive impact and there’ll be no stress. Mentally and physically, you’re going to be prepared. You’ll get to rest between games and the level of performance and recovery will give an advantage to players.”
Ronald de Boer played in two World Cups for the Netherlands, including France ’98, when the Dutch finished in fourth place after a penalty shoot-out defeat to Brazil in the semi-finals. De Boer, who was also the assistant coach when the Netherlands made it all the way to the final at South Africa 2010, believes the timing of Qatar 2022 – in the middle of the season for many top-level players – will boost the standard of competition.
He said: “If you’re playing for a good club you’re quite exhausted after a long season – and then you play in the World Cup or European Championships. For this World Cup, it’s going to be half-time in the season – players will be full of energy and fitter. You want to see the best players in the best shape of their lives – and hopefully we can witness that.”
De Boer, also a Qatar Legacy Ambassador, is expecting a vibrant atmosphere when the World Cup is held in the Middle East and Arab world for the first time.
“In tournaments I’ve been at, they are so spread out that you don’t always feel the atmosphere. Here, we will have all the fans together – it will be a special experience. I lived in Doha for seven years and I know what football means to this region. It’s going to be great for fans to see their heroes close up. I think it’s great for football and great for the world.”