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Qatar 2022’s Quest for Heroes


NATO’s leaders are the Hitlers of our age, abusing sport for their own myopic ends, Declan Hayes writes.

The ‘66 World Cup ended for me with Eusébio’s exit in the semi-final to England, who went on to win the tournament. ‘86 was a better year, when Maradona’s two great goals against England helped his team secure FIFA’S World Cup Trophy.

Now that Qatar 2022 is upon us, my childish adulation has passed from Eusébio and Maradona to others of that same class. Though Maryana Naumova and Kamila Valieva are right at the top of my list of heroes, pride of place goes to Sham Al Bakour, a seven year old Syrian girl, whose mother guided her to winning an all-Arab reading contest, only a few short years after Sham’s father died defending the secular Syrian Arab Republic. Qatar might have Messi, Ronaldo, De Bruyne as well as older mercenaries like Beckham and Gary Neville to showcase but Sham Al Bakour has the hearts of hundreds of millions of Arabs and many more of us in her pocket.

As regards the World Cup itself, there is not much to be said that has not been said. Qatar should not, of course, have been chosen and though the onus is now being put on the qualifying players to protest about this, that and the other in Qatar, that is not their job. Their job is to kick ball and those protests should have been made at the time Russia and Qatar were respectively awarded the 2018 and 2022 Finals.

Although NATO has predictably tried to make Russia out as being as undeserving as Qatar to host such events, Russia, the homeland of Lev Yashin, Igor Akinfeev and Rinat Dasayev not only was, not only is and not only always will be a world power in sports, association football included but Russians are also big enough to salute the genius of a Sham Al-Bakour or a Kamila Valieva as they are of a Eusébio, a Pele or a Maradona, hallmarks of greatness Sweden, Poland and the Czech Republic jettisoned when NATO got these pups to insist on Russia’s expulsion from Group H of the competition.

Therefore, according to the Swedes, the Poles, the Czechs and a variety of other NATO Quislings, the race should not go to the swiftest, and nor should the battle go to the strongest, or the football trophies to the best team if NATO decides otherwise.

In sport, as in so much else, NATO’s leaders are the Hitlers of our age, abusing sport for their own myopic ends. But whereas the Nazis allowed the great Max Schmeling carry their hopes against Joe Louis (with whom Schmeling developed a life long friendship) and the Reich’s national football team competed but failed against stiffer competition, all NATO can now do is rig their tournaments in their own favor and show that, whoever emerges as the eventual winner Russia, by being unfairly excluded, has scored a massive moral victory in Qatar ‘22.

Not to be outdone by their masters in terms of lack of sportsmanship, NATO’s rump Ukrainian Reich, in accordance with their own sense of unbridled entitlement, demanded that their team, should replace Iran in the Finals, even though Wales easily dispatched Ukraine in the play offs and Iran came through the Asian section, not the European section of the competition, where Israel, a controversial Asian country with an unenviable reputation in bad sportsmanship, is allowed to freely compete.

Israel and Ukraine are out, Iran is in and Wales, England and the United States have all been lumped into the same group as Iran, whose national team carry the hopes not only of all Iranians, but of all peace loving peoples throughout the civilized world. Although I am confident Iran will give a good account of themselves, the bookies’ favorites are the old reliables of Brazil, France and Argentina though football being a game of 90 minutes, after which Germany always wins, we can expect a few other perennials to be there in the final shake up.

But, outside of shouting for a few long shots like Iran, Ghana, Senegal, Serbia, Ecuador and Tunisia, there is not all that much to shout about, certainly not compared to the great run Syria had in 2018, Portugal had in ‘66, Maradona had in ‘86 or the great Sham Al-Bakour had in Dubai.

The shirt Maradona wore when his two goals put England to the sword recently sold for £7.1 million. His Hand of God ball is expected to fetch even more and may those who buy it enjoy a good, if somewhat overpriced, kick about with it in the cloistered worlds they live in. Though we will never again witness a player of Maradona’s caliber, the sacrifices and achievements of Sham Al-Bakour, Kamila Valieva and Maryana Naumova suggest that there might be better days, with bigger heroes ahead that big hearted maestros like Maradona, Yashin and Eusébio would be first in line to salute.

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