More than one billion worldwide viewers watched the tournament final in 2014 and 2018.
No, it’s not the Olympics, the World Series, or the Super Bowl. It’s the men’s World Cup of soccer, and you’ll be hearing plenty about this year’s edition in Qatar from Nov. 20 to Dec. 18.
Canadian soccer fans should be especially interested: This is the first time since 1986 that the Canadian men’s team has qualified for the tournament, and only the second time in the history of the competition.
The men’s senior World Cup of soccer, like the women’s senior World Cup, takes place every four years in a different country around the world. A total of 32 national teams compete in eight groups of four teams over four weeks until two teams arrive at the big World Cup final. These 32 teams represent the survivors of 209 national teams that began the qualifying process up to three years ago.
But what makes it special for parents and kids? Apart from showcasing the exquisite athleticism and skill of the top players from 32 countries, the World Cup is normally a showcase of multiculturalism, child rights, anti-racism, respect in sport, anti-gender discrimination, and world harmony in general.
Will this year’s World Cup in Qatar look different? Possibly. Qatar has been at the centre of controversy since being awarded the hosting rights in 2010 by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the world’s governing body for soccer.
Apart from the strange fact that the games will be held in air-conditioned stadiums to counter the extreme heat of the desert nation, many migrant workers have died in the construction of the stadiums, and groups such as Human Rights Watch have documented a wide range of human rights abuses in the lead-up to the tournament.
Nonetheless, soccer fans worldwide are hoping that the traditional World Cup buzz of goodwill and inclusion will prevail in Qatar.
And Canadian fans, who have waited decades to see their men’s team play on the World Cup stage again, are hoping that they will at least score a couple of goals and possibly win a game or two. Not an easy feat when you’re competing against the 31 best teams of 209 in the world!
Here are some key World Cup moments to watch for:
1. Players holding hands with children
At the start of each match, the two teams walk onto the field together—holding the hands of boys and girls who are dressed in matching team shirts and shorts. Imagine being one of those kids walking alongside the biggest soccer stars in the world into a stadium with 80,000 fans!
2. National anthems
Before the starting whistle, the teams line up and the national anthems are played in turn for each team. Most of the players sing and the stadium erupts as tens of thousands of fans join them with spirited gusto. This month, you’ll be able to hear anthems sung in English, French, German, Korean, Croatian, Serbian, Spanish, Japanese, Arabic, Danish, Dutch, Portuguese, Polish, Persian, and Welsh.
3. Showing respect for others
After the anthems and prior to the starting whistle, the two teams pass by each other and all players shake hands. Respect for opponents and officials is a fundamental value promoted at every World Cup, as is respect for persons of all races, genders, colours, and creeds. (Sure, some of the players may get at each other on the field, but you expect athletes’ emotions to run high in a competition. It’s a concept worth discussing with your kids. It’s only weird if the emotions continue off the field afterwards.)
4. The human wave
At random intervals during the game, the stadium crowd will spontaneously generate a human “wave” that circles the stadium as entire sections of spectators sequentially stand up and sit down again in quick succession. When kids see this, they’re usually impressed!
5. Goal celebrations
When players score a goal, they always celebrate, and often with highly ritualized personal routines that are fun to watch. Some players will launch into handsprings and backflips, some will pretend to draw an archery bow or a pistol as though they’re taking target practice, their teammates may pretend to “shine their shoes,” and sometimes the entire team may rush together to perform 10 seconds of a traditional dance native to their country. (One of my favourite goal celebrations was the entire Japanese team enacting a segment of the popular anime cartoon Dragonball Z.)
6. Fans in wild outfits
It’s very common for fans to dress up, paint their faces, paint their bodies, wear wigs, wear silly hats, sing team songs, and even play musical instruments. In seeing some of their antics, you might wonder sometimes if they’re even looking at the game. Watching the fans is just as entertaining as watching the match at times.
7. Players trading shirts
When the game finishes, players from both teams will approach their opponents and trade shirts. It’s a sign of respect for each other, and the jerseys also become prized keepsakes for the players. (Who presumably wash them when they get home! One hopes, anyways.)
8. Grown men crying
At different junctures during the tournament, when a team is eliminated, you’ll often see the players collapse on the field and cry. That’s because it’s okay for grown men to cry at the World Cup. It’s acceptable for them to show their vulnerability. Brené Brown would approve.
These are some of the top reasons for watching the World Cup with your kids. There are always other special moments during the World Cup—such as the players of Korea and Turkey holding hands and showing unity as they celebrated together at the end of their third-place match at the 2002 World Cup—but these are harder to predict, and you might have to watch all 64 tournament matches to catch some of those extra-special moments!
Players to watch at the 2022 FIFA World Cup
With each World Cup, there are always a few players who are especially exciting to watch. Some teams such as Brazil have several stars, while other national teams might only have one or two. Here’s a short list of a few players you should watch for and why.
1. Canada — Alphonso Davies
For Canadian soccer fans, you have to watch for Alphonso Davies. He is a star defender for his regular club team Bayern Munich in Germany, one of the top soccer clubs in the world. He has been a very important player for Canada’s men’s national team in qualifying for their first World Cup since 1986.
2. Argentina — Lionel Messi
Messi is one of the most recognizable soccer stars in the world and captain of the Argentina national team, but he has never won a senior men’s World Cup despite playing in four previous tournaments. Will he finally win it all with Argentina in what will likely be his last World Cup?
3. Portugal — Cristiano Ronaldo
Like Messi, Ronaldo is one of the most famous soccer players in the world and captain of his national team, Portugal. And like Messi, he has never won a World Cup, and this will likely be his last tournament as well. Can he lead his team to the trophy?
4. Brazil — Antony
If this was the 2014 or 2018 World Cup, everyone would be talking about Neymar, but he’s getting older now, and Antony is a Brazil youngster who might be the star power of the future.
5. England — Jude Bellingham
England is one of those teams with a number of star players. Jude Bellingham is another youngster who has broken into the ranks of his national soccer team and may become a star player in coming years. He accidentally kicked Alphonso Davies in the face in a recent game between their two German club teams, but luckily Davies has recovered from the injury and will still play in Qatar.
6. Brazil — Vinicius Jr.
The other young star emerging for Brazil alongside Antony is Vinicius Jr. He’s a proven goalscorer at his club team Real Madrid in Spain and an exciting player to watch.
7. Spain — Gavi
Every World Cup always presents a young player award at the end of the tournament, and Gavi could be that player at the Qatar tournament. He has masterful ball skills and controls the game from midfield for Spain.
8. France — Kylian Mbappé
Alongside Karim Benzema, Mbappé is an exciting forward who will provide the main attacking threat for France at the World Cup. He scored four goals at the 2018 World Cup as France went all the way to the final and won it all.
9. Netherlands — Frenkie de Jong
Frenkie de Jong plays in the midfield for the Netherlands national team and represents the all-round soccer player. He can dribble, he can pass, he can defend, and he can attack and score.
Will you be watching with your children? Tell us about your favourite part of the World Cup in the comments below.
Header photo: FIFA