What if nobody came to Cup?

The year is 2022. The temperature in Doha is a pleasant 24 degrees – it is January after all – as we climb into the stretch limousine ferrying us to the World Cup final.
Nanjing Night Net

For as far as the eye can see, white limos choke the boulevard to the stadium. Every person attending the tournament has been afforded five-star service by our Qatari hosts. Not that there are that many of us; mostly dignitaries, officials and a smattering of foreign media. The bulk is made up of locals and schoolchildren bussed in from neighbouring emirates, who have been rehearsing for months, and the families of migrant workers who died during the construction of the venues.

With just hours until the final between the hosts, Qatar, and North Korea, it is eerily quiet. No chanting and definitely no drunken hooligans, for this World Cup is dry. There are no protests either, not after what happened in Russia 3 1/2 years earlier. There is a strong security presence for the arrival of the North Korea’s perpetual leader, Kim Jong-un, on a rare excursion abroad. Kim is accompanied by his right-hand man and Sports Minister, Dennis Rodman-un, who defected from the US years earlier.

In the group stage, Qatar, with its team of mainly naturalised Brazilians, survived a scare from the plucky All England Pub XI, representing Europe, before seeing off Brunei and Yemen to book their place in the final. North Korea, meanwhile, successfully negotiated their Group of Death, which included Libya, Syria and Somalia.

The fact there are only two groups at this tournament is mainly due to FIFA’s decision to bring the Cup forward to the cooler northern winter, smack in the middle of the busy European season. But reducing the number of qualifying places from Europe in the final 32 was the last straw. That led to a mass boycott by the powerful UEFA nations, and other countries were quick to follow.

The rebel nations banded together to form a rival world body, the Federation of Former FIFA Federations, or FOFFF. Their New World Cup will be held as usual in June, in Australia and New Zealand.

Of course, global discontent over the bidding process that led to Qatar hosting the Cup had been festering for years before the split. But as time marched on, FIFA found itself painted into a corner: move the tournament to another country and face paying billions in damages to Qatar, or push ahead and stage a flop that would leave the host nation billions in the red. So here we are. In Qatar.

It’s 15 minutes to kick-off. FIFA supremo Sepp Blatter, 85 and still smiling like Cheshire cat, is wheeled into the royal box to take his place between his host Sheikh Tamim and Kim Jong-un, flanked by Dennis Rodman-un, along with the Sultan of Brunei and Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, still blaming opposition rebels for his team’s semi-final defeat.

The finalists march out for the national anthems. As they end, the sound of a roaring crowd is piped into the royal box. The stadium appears full, thanks to holographic images projected into the empty banks of seats.

Finally, the whistle blows, and … if this sounds like bad a dream, that’s what the idea of staging the World Cup in Qatar is like to countless football lovers around the world. They are the biggest stakeholders in the game, the ones who will vote with their feet, their wallets and their remotes if this travesty is allowed to play out.

Human rights issues aside, this writer has no beef with Qatar but few right-minded people would believe FIFA’s bidding process that handed the Cup to a tiny nation ranked outside the top 100 in world football was fair and transparent. You could hear the sound of jaws dropping around the world when it was announced. At the very least, it was a serious case of queue jumping.

But the evidence is already there: the English FA was invited to grease palms for votes, and two senior executives and several other FIFA officials have since been exposed as corrupt. That’s just what has emerged so far. Of course none of Australian taxpayers’ $43 million ended up in brown paper bags. But no one for a minute buys Blatter’s hand-on-heart assertion that this all about developing football in the Middle East. With nine years to go, it is not too late for the world to turn, one way or another.Super-duper Eagles

Coincidentally, Uncle Sepp was just up the road in Abu Dhabi to hand Nigeria’s Super Eaglets the under-17 World Cup on Saturday, after they beat rank outsiders Mexico 3-0 in the final. It was a tall order for the Mexicans, who were thrashed 6-1 by Nigeria in their opening group game. But they bounced back to make it all the way to final, edging mighty Brazil in a marathon penalty shootout along the way. Curiously, three teams from the one group made it to the semis, the other being debutants Sweden. Nigeria scored a whopping 26 goals in their seven games, with No.10 Kelechi Iheanacho having a hand in half of them, scoring six and laying on seven others. A name to watch. Ditto their No.7 Habib Makanjuola, just 14 and already on Chelsea’s books, and tournament top scorer Valmir Berisha of Sweden. One Brazilian name that caused quite a buzz was … Mosquito. We kid you not.

Buzzing: Mosquito in action for Brazil’s under-17s team. Photo: Getty ImagesYou’ve got to be jokin’ ‘ere

Our favourite gaffe-er, Joe Kinnear, has been at it again. Now back at Newcastle as director of football, the Joker tried to sign midfielder Shane Ferguson after a scouting trip to Birmingham – only to be told the 22-year-old was already a Newcastle player and had been loaned out to the Blues.Pay of the week

Spare a thought for England under-21 international Saido Berahino, who scored a hat-trick on his full debut for West Brom in the League Cup but takes home just £850 ($1450) a week, making him one of the EPL’s lowest-paid players. To put it in perspective, the league’s top earner, believed to be Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, rakes in a whopping £185,000 a week (217 times as much) and he’s just 22. Still, there’d be a lot of 20-year-old Brummies on a lot less than Berahino, and they have to work for a living, much less in Burundi from where he and his family fled 10 years ago. Little surprise after 10 goals this season, with clubs circling and an England call-up mooted, the Baggies are open to negotiation on a new deal.

Cut-price Brummy: Saido Berahino. Photo: Getty ImagesChant of the week

“We’ll win the Ashes 5-0!”

Reading fans taunt their own keeper, Australian Adam Federici. Nice. The Royals shipped five last week with Fedders on the bench. Draw your own conclusions.Sprays of the week

“I gave them a hit on the backside last week, and they took it on the chin.” Roar coach Mike ” Mixed Metaphor” Mulvey. All that Pilates must be paying off.

“A clock has a ding-dong. I have listened to the ding from lots of journalists (see above) … and critics, and I am going there [to Qatar] to listen to the dong.” Swiss watchmaker Sepp Blatter. That clock tolls for thee.

“I’m the bad cop and he’s the bad, bad cop.” New Ireland manager Martin O’Neill on his managerial double act with firebrand assistant Roy Keane. It won’t be boring, to be sure.The Answer

So who would be the first name on Fergie’s all-time great Manchester United side (of his reign of course)?

One eagle-eyed reader got it right: Dennis Irwin.

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