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The World Cup Has Swapped Suffering for Style


DOHA, Qatar — The important thing word of this World Cup just isn’t one which FIFA can be especially glad to plaster on its marketing materials. It has develop into the tournament’s leitmotif, the main target of countless news conferences and interviews. It has been solid because the sport’s ultimate virtue.

Now we have been told, repeatedly over the past month, that there’s one trait greater than another that a player must possess, that a team must display, that determines who gets to win and who has to lose: the flexibility, as almost everyone involved within the tournament has said, to suffer.

It has been used as a warning: Luka Modric, a Croatia midfielder, declared within the round of 16 that his team was “used to suffering, and if we have now to suffer, we are going to.” It has been used as a boast: “Now we have a superb technical staff, we all know learn how to suffer,” Croatia’s manager, Zlatko Dalic, said a number of days later.

Some teams see it as a part of their identity — “We’re a team that knows learn how to suffer,” the French defender Jules Koundé said after a semifinal victory — and a few see it as an option of last resort. “We all know learn how to suffer when it’s crucial,” as Lionel Messi put it after a semifinal victory over Croatia. Very occasionally, a stray voice arises, wondering whether it is all such a superb idea. “We all know learn how to suffer,” Messi’s Argentina teammate Nicolás Tagliafico said. “But we must attempt to suffer less.”

If the word sounds only a touch discordant in English — this expression, it seems almost definitely, has entered the game’s lingua franca from the Spanish verb sufrir and can be higher translated as “endure” — it fairly neatly encapsulates the character of the soccer we have now seen over the past month.

There was no shortage of tense, compelling games in Qatar. Whether that quite justified the assertion of Gianni Infantino, the FIFA president, that this tournament produced the “best ever” group stage is just a little more complex. Tense, compelling games are, in any case, the World Cup’s calling card: Its rarity and its unforgiving format mean that this is basically what it’s designed to supply.

A Transient Guide to the 2022 World Cup

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What’s the World Cup? The quadrennial event pits the most effective national soccer teams against one another for the title of world champion. Here’s a primer to the 2022 men’s tournament:

Where is it being held? This yr’s host is Qatar, which in 2010 beat the US and Japan to win the fitting to carry the tournament. Whether that was an honest competition stays in dispute.

When is it? The tournament opened on Nov. 20, when Qatar played Ecuador. Over the 2 weeks that follow, 4 games will likely be played on most days. The tournament ends with the ultimate on Dec. 18.

Is a winter World Cup normal? No. The World Cup often takes place in July. But in 2015, FIFA concluded that the summer temperatures in Qatar might need unpleasant consequences and agreed to maneuver the tournament to the relatively bearable months of November and December.

What number of teams are competing? Thirty-two. Qatar qualified mechanically because the host, and after years of matches, the opposite 31 teams earned the fitting to return and play. Meet the teams here.

How does the tournament work? The 32 teams are divided into eight groups of 4. Within the opening stage, each team plays all the opposite teams in its group once. The highest two finishers in each group advance to the round of 16. After that, the World Cup is a straight knockout tournament.

How can I watch the World Cup within the U.S.? The tournament will likely be broadcast on Fox and FS1 in English, and on Telemundo in Spanish. You’ll be able to livestream it on Peacock, or on streaming services that carry Fox and FS1. Here’s learn how to watch every match.

When will the games happen? Qatar is three hours ahead of London, eight hours ahead of Recent York and 11 hours ahead of Los Angeles. Meaning there will likely be predawn kickoffs on the East Coast of the US for some games, and midafternoon starts for 10 p.m. games in Qatar.

Got more questions? We’ve got more answers here.

In fact, though, this World Cup has leaned more toward the slow burn than the thrilling. There have been few games that shone for the standard of their entertainment reasonably than the importance of their consequences: within the knockout rounds, perhaps only the choleric quarterfinal between the Netherlands and Argentina; within the group phase, not more than a handful, generally involving one in all Serbia, Ghana and Japan.

Quite why that ought to be is, strictly speaking, the preserve of FIFA’s grandly titled Technical Study Group, a brain trust of retired players and managers — led by Jürgen Klinsmann and Arsène Wenger — that’s purported to offer precious insight into what the World Cup can teach us concerning the state of play in international soccer.

Its findings up to now, though, have been oddly untechnical. Its first update, after the group phase, began with Wenger’s discussing the traffic in Doha and what number of games he has been in a position to attend every day. Its second, before the semifinals, offered insights no more sophisticated than Croatia’s “stamina and work rate” being vital and “Asian players are less intimidated” than they (apparently) was.

That looks like a wasted opportunity. Once every 4 years, in any case, the World Cup offers an imperfect but unrivaled insight into soccer’s direction of travel across the globe, and the evidence proffered by this edition has been, if not conclusive, then actually credible.

Soccer is rapidly, irrefutably homogenizing, guided by the dread hand of Europe. Regional and national traditions are being eroded to the purpose of erasure. Longstanding differences in style and interpretation are disappearing. Of the teams at this tournament, only Spain and to an extent Germany had what might be labeled a particular, identifiable “style,” and neither fared especially well.

Wenger and his technical study group have touched on this only briefly, early on in that first public discussion of their findings. Certainly one of the explanations that the majority games within the group phase had began so cautiously, he said, was that it was evident “the teams all know one another well,” testament to the “deep study” each team had dedicated to its opponents.

Doubtless, the professionalization of opposition research has been an element, nevertheless it just isn’t the just one. Louis van Gaal, the outgoing Dutch coach, who spent much of the World Cup using his news conferences as a final likelihood to opine on a wide range of subjects to a captive global audience, noted that “results are very tight, even between big teams and smaller countries, because compact defending is simpler than attacking.”

Those teams, in other words, who didn’t have the depth of talent or resources of France, Brazil, Spain and England found that they may make up for that shortfall with tactical acumen, discipline and the all-important suffering. Fairly than expressing their very own national style, a overwhelming majority of teams have played a baseline version of soccer’s increasingly default approach.

The result, largely, has been parity. Though there was a smattering of rollovers within the early days of the tournament — England against Iran, Spain against Costa Rica — for essentially the most part, even apparent mismatches have been settled by superb margins.

“It’s so much harder to play attacking soccer than it was 20 years ago, after I was coach of Ajax,” van Gaal said. “I received lots of criticism after I got here up with a more defensive system, on the 2014 World Cup, but now half the world plays like that. Soccer has evolved toward it.”

There are differences of interpretation and implementation, in fact, separating the way in which that Morocco and Japan and Croatia play, but the fundamental principles remain the identical. That’s true even of the finalists, Argentina and France, countries that boast among the richest arrays of individual talent in the sport.

“I wouldn’t dare to say which team has been the most effective,” Juanma Lillo, a Spanish coach who has had an outsize impact on tactical development over the past 20 years, wrote in an absorbing column for The Athletic earlier this month. “Because they’re all so similar and the players are so equivalent.”

“Every thing is globalized now,” he wrote. “At club level, if you happen to go to a training session in Norway and one in South Africa, they’ll be the identical.” He added: “It’s crept into the World Cup: If you happen to got the Cameroon and Brazil players to vary shirts at halftime you wouldn’t even realize. Possibly with the tattoos or the yellow hair, but not the performance.”

Lillo rues the incontrovertible fact that modern soccer has coached away “the bad players” at the fee of numbing the “good ones”; he laments the absence of true individualists in the game, as talent is surrendered to the service of a system; he’s, he wrote, “like a regretful father” when he considers the role he has played in popularizing a hegemonic global style.

Whether it’s a positive or a negative, though, it’s that which has given this World Cup its identity, which has provided not only its defining trait, but its key word. When all the players have the identical coaching, in any case, when almost all the teams have access to the identical information and the identical ideas, when talent is not any longer the nice dividing line, what matters greater than anything — as everyone has made clear — is which side, which players, have the best ability to suffer.

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