The main reason we are not in the middle of a glorious World Cup summer is the heat. Specifically, the sweltering heat in Qatar would have made hosting the world’s largest sporting event in its regular season almost impossible, both for players and fans. Although FIFA could have simply chosen not to hold its quadrennial summer party in a country that was not uniquely suited to hosting it during the traditional time period – and in the process, it would have saved the lives of thousands of migrant workers, not anyone. else. In the organization he seems to care – the World Cup in Qatar has moved forward in a time-warping fashion, turning the World Cup into a winter tournament in the middle of the season in order to protect everyone involved.
Where, then, was this caution for Peru and Australia? Although the World Cup qualifiers are not part of the tournament, they are integral to the process of deciding who will play for the Gold Cup at the end of it all. It stands to reason, then, that these qualifiers, and specifically in this case the intercontinental qualifiers, would receive the same attention as the tournament itself. However, the play-off between Peru and Australia CONMEBOL/AFC was played in Doha, Qatar on Monday, in the same oppressive heat, which did not abate until 9:00 pm. The result was what you’d expect when two not-so-great teams meet under unbearable close conditions: a sloppy, sweaty match that ended in a 0-0 quagmire decided by penalties and a dancing goalkeeper.
Peru and Australia – as well as its sister match in the play-off between Costa Rica and New Zealand, scheduled for Tuesday – happened the way they did for a number of reasons, some of which are beyond FIFA’s control. The matches were supposed to take place in March this year, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the scheduling issues it caused, the playoffs had to be moved to June. In years past, playoffs were a two-way match, with each team hosting a match in front of their home fans. However, this time FIFA decided to reduce the qualifiers to a winner-take-all on neutral ground in order to minimize travel, which is why we made the ill-advised decision to host the highest stakes matches in the entire qualifier calendar all at once in Qatar.
Conditions on the pitch, with the temperature hovering around 91 degrees and the humidity sweltering, combined with a lack of quality to provide fans who made the arduous journey to Qatar with little more than a slow game. Neither Peru nor Australia seem to be able to achieve much in terms of attacking on goal, with both teams scoring three shots on target combined over 120 grueling minutes. Australia were probably the better team that day, as far as anyone else could be, although Peru had the best chance of the match in overtime, when Edison Flores hit the post and rebounded:
More important, however, is how the extra time was spoiled by the frequent stopping of the cramps, as the players who had been there throughout the match fell to the ground in droves. While cramps do occur in even the coldest matches, Monday’s recurrence was directly linked to the heat, and overshadowed one of the most exciting occasions in world football. It is understood that FIFA will want to host matches in the country where the World Cup will be held, but this is not an excuse. Conditions in June are so different than they will be this winter that they can’t even be discarded as tournament preparation. Instead, it essentially served as an advertisement for a tournament that shouldn’t exist in its current style, with players only battling for a career achievement and the chance of playing in the World Cup suffering because of FIFA’s decisions.
It’s not like no one saw this coming. In preparation for the match, Peru’s assistant coach Nobi Solano said that his team had to train in Spain before the match because it was very hot in Qatar. FIFA has canceled the promise that kick-off for the night match, combined with the air conditioning in the stadium, would make a possible situation for the players: “We were asked to play in the same conditions as the World Cup was decided. It would not be possible to play in it. For a match with this Size, with so much at stake, I’m not sure that’s really good for us or Australia. Although it’s clearly the same for both teams.”
Solano, of course, was right in that assessment, even in the latter part: both teams were clearly suffering by the time the extra 30 minutes came, and although Flores was able to at least come close to scoring, the penalty shootout seemed a sure thing. . As soon as the whistle exploded in normal time. Sanctions are really a cruel way to decide on something that high stakes, but having penalties that happen mainly because everyone is stressed out and in heat is a less than ideal outcome. The props, I think, go to Australia and their choreographer to keep their heads long enough to progress, but it really shouldn’t have happened that way.
There is not much to do now, as Costa Rica and New Zealand are set to start in very difficult conditions on Tuesday. It was easy to avoid all of this, especially the playoff predicament. FIFA could have decided to host matches in a place that was cooler and more appropriate for the occasion, but chose instead to keep accelerating its promotional mechanism to 11, making safety and entertainment damned. At the end of the day, that was FIFA’s decision, tracking its recklessness along with everything else that happened in the lead up to this World Cup disaster.