Al Jazeera’s sports reporter looks back at the World Cup, from the day Qatar won the bid to the final straight.
Doha, Qatar – It was text messages back in 2010, a memory that dates both the Qatar World Cup and me.
I was standing outside an exhibition centre in Zurich, stamping my feet to keep warm in between doing live reports for Al Jazeera. FIFA was about to announce the hosts for the 2022 World Cup.
My fingers were certainly getting a good workout as decision time got closer that snowy December day.
The inbox on my banged-up Nokia was filling up with notes from colleagues inside the toasty confines of the Messe Hall, and all had a similar refrain.
“Qatar think they might just have got it” would best summarise the overall sentiment. A live feed of the grand envelope opening was being fed into my ear as former FIFA boss Sepp Blatter stepped up to deliver the words that changed a nation forever.
“The winner to host the two twenty-two FIFA World Cup is Qatar!”
Not only did we have a new way of saying 2022, but football’s biggest tournament also had a new home.
The next day, a shivering press huddle gathered outside the hotel where Qatar’s bid team was staying. The head of the committee, Hassan Al Thawadi, took a few questions before leaving for the airport.
The main theme that morning was Qatar’s weather and the high temperatures in June and July when the World Cup is traditionally held. There was also the “lack of footballing culture” charge thrown at Al Thawadi.
That was just day one of Qatar being in the global spotlight like never before. The pointed questions in that freezing Swiss car park were just the start.
With an unprecedented 12-year build-up, this World Cup has been scrutinised like no other. My hope is that the idealism rather than the criticism of the 2010 bid does become a reality; that fans will be able to travel to more than one game per day; that sceptics visiting the Middle East for the first time have some of their preconceptions changed.
Any veterans of that chilly morning in Switzerland may also note that air-conditioned stadiums have been built and Qatar’s national team that kicks off this World Cup will do so as reigning Asian Cup champions.
Most of all, I’m looking forward to seeing this World Cup reflected through the eyes of my young son. He’s just one of the many changes that have occurred in my life since that vote more than a decade ago. A formative footballing memory of mine is watching the 1982 World Cup as a seven-year-old and falling in love with the yellow Brazilian jersey.
It opened my eyes to a beguiling world beyond the mud and chill winds of English football. It confirmed in my mind that this game would forever be a part of my life. My son can’t wait to watch the world’s best at their best. He wants to see goals, recreate them in the back garden and relive them in his dreams.
For a few days at least, we should all be allowed to welcome a little wide-eyed joy back into our lives.