England outside favourites, World Cup could see upsets: Tim Cahill
Being at a World Cup influences the game in that country, says former Australia star and Qatar 2022 ambassador
Some ambassadors for the 2022 World Cup have had more decorated careers but few have Tim Cahill’s credentials. The Australian, with an English father and Samoan mother, made a name for himself in a country that has won the World Cup and played in countries that won’t in the near future, India included. He has played in four World Cups, been his country's first scorer in the quadrennial showpiece and is the chief sports officer at Qatar’s famous Aspire Academy in Doha where he now lives with his family.
That qualified Cahill to take a wide range of questions from media spread over five continents. From specific ones such as Africa using local coaches; what Qatar should expect from its team; the fan experience in a country where beer isn’t an essential commodity to those more generic like his favourites to win West Asia’s first World Cup.
“Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany can all win but England will be an outside force,” he said at Al Janoub Stadium here on Wednesday.
It was a comment, he said, based on spending 14 years in England. “I can speak from experience of how players will be at that time of the season (the World Cup is from November 20 to December 18). It (England) is only seven hours away meaning you can sleep through the flight and then, you have the best of facilities to train and get ready. You don’t travel between cities. And that forwardline! It will really be a question of whom to leave out,” he said.
With Marcus Rashford back in form, Raheem Sterling being one of the few bright spots at Chelsea, Harry Kane doing as Harry Kane does and Bukayo Saka sparkling at Arsenal, Gareth Southgate would have a problem of plenty and Cahill said a lot would hinge on squad selection.
It was a point he also made for Brazil along with “how well would Neymar gel with the rest of the squad for a potential seven games.”
For Cahill, five African teams bringing own coaches was a sign of the game developing in the continent that has about 500 players in Europe. “It is also good to see ex-players in responsible roles trying to grow the game,” he said, referring to Samuel Eto’o heading the Cameroon federation. “He wants to develop a system that is more bottom up.”
Given no inter-city travel and that the gap between countries has narrowed, Cahill foresaw a “high performance tactical World Cup where there will be a lot of upsets and the hardest thing for the top teams will be to go through the group.”
Being at a World Cup influences the state of football in that country, he said. “I know it does for Australia and now it is for the federation to translate that for a new generation. So, for Qatar whoever scores the first goal will be a landmark moment. I didn’t realise its impact till I retired. Logging their first point, winning the first game will have a lot of impact on the game here.”
When the conversation veered to fan experience, Cahill spoke of the need to enjoy different cultures. “I have been in China where they take off shoes before entering a room and now live here where football stops for prayers.” To the follow-up question from HT about whether this World Cup could convey an alternate way of enjoying the experience, Cahill shared his experience in four campaigns: from things being perfect in Germany to having monkeys stealing food from the table in South Africa. And said: “After the pandemic, this will be the biggest event to bring the world together.”