Cope: The names, teams and stories behind the 2022 FIFA World Cup |

Cope: The names, teams and stories behind the 2022 FIFA World Cup

Globe's biggest event starts Nov. 20; USA plays England on Black Friday

Dave Cope
United States forward Christian Pulisic, left, and other players participate in an official training session at Al-Gharafa SC Stadium, in Doha on Saturday. The U.S. plays it's first game against Wales Nov. 21.
Ashley Landis/AP

With the burgeoning amount of content available surrounding this World Cup and the moral consideration of whether it should even take place, I’m not sure if anyone out there even deigns to read this. I would, however, like to share a few thoughts on the teams, the history, and the cultural impact of the globe’s biggest spectacle. It’s here, we qualified, and who knows — it might be fun to watch a few matches crammed in-between visits from your relatives.

First of all, how did this happen? Why is the World Cup in the winter for the first time ever and in a country, Qatar, that has never qualified for the World Cup before this? Bribes and corruption.

It’s well documented that this has been a money grab by those on the receiving end of those bribes, compounded by the awful treatment of the workers building the stadiums and facilities. Perhaps we need to realize that this has always been the case with global sports, from Hitler’s 1936 Olympics, to the World Cups in 1962 and 1978 hosted by military Juntas in Chile and Argentina, to the slaughter of Mexico City students right before the 1968 Olympics, to the ongoing awful treatment of Tibetan Monks in China while hosting a summer and winter games, to Putin’s road to Sochi.

Let’s also remember, as we prepare to host the 2026 World Cup, that our own past isn’t so clean either, ranging from, uh, actual slavery to our own governments inaction in the face of gun violence or our support of dictatorships around the world during the Cold War. 

If we can get past the sportswashing and corruption, however, global sport has provided us with some of the indelible positive and unifying moments in our collective history. Jesse Owens’ gold medals, Bob Beamon’s jump, Pele’s goals, Maradona’s mad dash through a hapless English defense, Franz Klammer’s plunge down a mountainside, the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” and Carly Lloyd’s bomb from the halfway line provide the world with indelible, remember-when moments of the most positive kind. So yes, we will be watching, and it will be glorious!

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The groups provide some interesting matchups, starting with group A, featuring the unknown quantity of host nation Qatar, the return of the Netherlands after missing out in 2018 (see, it’s not just us!) and Ecuador. Host nations traditionally overachieve despite their lack of previous World Cup History — see England in 1966, France in 1998 and South Korea in 2002. Look for Qatar, despite its bags of cash, homefield advantage, five-star suites for referees, and recently naturalized citizens to narrowly miss out as Senegal and Netherlands advance.

Group B is the most interesting group, with historical rivalries, social strife and long-absent guests — and no, I’m not describing the Cope Thanksgiving dinner table! The highlight of this group is surely the USA vs. England on Black Friday at 12 p.m. MST. On paper, this one should be fairly straightforward for England, with it’s quality depth and appearance in the final of the Euros last summer, but they have traditionally struggled against the U.S. Poor Rob Green spilled a hopeful Clint Dempsey effort into his own net in 2010, allowing America to top the group.

Before that, Joe Gaetjens and the heroes of 1950 sent England, “home before the postcards,” from Brazil. Not to mention the plucky upstarts and young team we had in 1776 with manager George Washington, captain Alexander Hamilton and master motivator Thomas Paine. Once again we have a, “young, scrappy and hungry,” squad representing a country where in the words of the great, Men in Blazers program, soccer has been the, “sport of the future, since 1972!”

Another intriguing matchup in this group will be USA vs. Iran. The regime in Iran is dealing with an uprising in the country after the death of Kurdish woman Gina Amini, who was in custody after being detained by the morality police. The government has barely been able to control the protests in their country and have disciplined and left out some foreign based players who expressed support for women’s rights in Iran.

In 1998, I was at the USA vs Iran match when similar turmoil was going on in Iran as the 20th anniversary of the revolution and the U.S. Embassy being taken hostage approached. Most of the Iranian fans attending the game were Iranian refugees and exiles from the United States and Europe who, paradoxically, supported the team while protesting in the stadium against their government. Expect similar gestures this time in what could be a fascinating clash on Nov. 29.

The group is rounded out by Wales, which heartbreakingly knocked out an inspirational team from Ukraine in a playoff qualifying match during the early days of the war with Russia — back when we didn’t know if there would still be a Ukraine by the time the World Cup started. Here’s hoping Ukraine can host it and knock out Russia one day. Wales is making their first appearance since 1958, when they were knocked out by a goal from 17-year-old Pele en route to the first of his incredible three World Cup trophies, a seemingly untouchable record. Look for Wales to have the best national anthem and fans at the tournament.

Group C, D, E, F and H will be previewed in Monday’s Vail Daily.

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