The World Cup kicks off in Qatar on Sunday – and it’s set to be one of the most controversial in the tournament’s history.
Concerns about corruption, migrant worker deaths and the country’s attitude towards LGBT+ fans have dogged the event before a ball has even been kicked.
And the timing of the tournament – with the final taking place a week before Christmas instead of the summer – has ensured it will be a World Cup like no other.
Here, Sky News looks at nine stories to watch out for at the event as the biggest stars in football gather in the Gulf state to compete for the famous trophy.
Will players protest?
While Qatar has been criticised for its stance on same-sex relationships – with homosexuality illegal in the country – along with its human rights record and treatment of migrant workers, World Cup organisers FIFA have urged teams to “focus on the football”.
Their plea, however, appears already to have been ignored and players are expected to raise awareness of human rights issues during the tournament.
England captain Harry Kane will wear a OneLove armband in support of the LGBT+ community, even if it is banned by FIFA and risks fines from football’s governing body.
Wales captain Gareth Bale has also confirmed he will wear the armband, saying the players can “shed a light on the problems” in Qatar.
Before the tournament, Australia’s players released a video criticising the “suffering and harm of countless” migrant workers in Qatar after reports of deaths, ranging from a few dozen to several thousand, during preparations for the World Cup.
Read more: Why the Qatar World Cup is so controversial
Manchester United and Portugal star Bruno Fernandes has also voiced his displeasure at Qatar hosting the tournament.
He told Sky Sports: “We have seen the surroundings over the past few weeks and months, and about people who have died on the construction of the stadiums. We are not happy for that.”
How will LGBT+ fans be treated?
Concerns have been raised about the treatment of LGBT+ fans travelling to the World Cup in Qatar.
Just two weeks before the start of the event, an ambassador for the tournament, Khalid Salman, described homosexuality as “damage in the mind” while speaking to a German broadcaster, before the interview was immediately cut short by a press officer.
A report by Human Rights Watch warned that security forces in Qatar have arbitrarily arrested and abused LGBT+ Qataris as recently as September.
And last month, veteran LGBT+ activist and campaigner Peter Tatchell claimed he was “arrested” and stopped by police after he staged a protest in the Gulf state.
Qatar’s World Cup chief has insisted LGBT+ fans will not be discriminated against during the tournament, telling Sky News they can hold hands and are welcome to display affection and rainbow flags.
“All we ask is for people to be respectful of the culture,” Nasser Al Khater said.
However England LGBT+ supporters’ group, Three Lions Pride, says it will not be travelling to the World Cup over fears it could make the local gay community “vulnerable to systematic, institutional and potentially vigilante abuse”.
How will drunk fans be dealt with?
There have been questions over how boozy football supporters will be dealt with in Qatar, where it is illegal to be drunk in public.
The conservative Muslim country has had to open up more areas for the sale of alcohol – including outside stadiums and in fan zones – rather than it remaining restricted to hotel bars.
However Budweiser was forced to relocate stalls selling beer outside stadiums after Qatari rulers wanted alcohol to be less prominent.
Mr Al Khater told Sky News that drunk fans will be sent to special zones to sober up.
“There are plans in place for people to sober up if they’ve been drinking excessively,” he said.
“It’s a place to make sure that they keep themselves safe, they’re not harmful to anybody else.”
What role will David Beckham have at the tournament?
The former England captain has been strongly criticised for agreeing to be an ambassador for Qatar to promote the World Cup, in a deal reportedly worth up to £150m.
Beckham had been hailed as a “gay icon”, having been the first footballer to appear on the front of Attitude magazine.
Three Lions Pride have expressed their disappointment with Beckham’s role with Qatar, while comedian Joe Lycett has threatened to shred £10,000 of his own money if the former midfielder does not end the deal.
It is unclear how prominent Beckham’s role will be at the tournament but having reportedly signed up to be “the face of the Qatar World Cup”, his appearance at the event is expected.
Can England end 56 years of hurt?
Having reached the semi-finals of the World Cup in Russia four years ago, and the final of Euro 2020, hopes are high for Gareth Southgate’s squad despite their poor form in recent matches.
England haven’t won their last six games but are fifth favourites to win the tournament, according to bookmakers, behind Spain, France, Argentina and favourites Brazil.
They will be hoping to end the 56-year wait since England’s last World Cup win in 1966.
The Three Lions’ first game against Iran kicks off on 21 November at 1pm UK time, before they play the USA on 25 November at 7pm and Wales on 29 November at 7pm.
How will Wales fare at their first World Cup in 64 years?
When Wales last competed at a World Cup in 1958, the team made it all the way to the quarter-finals before losing to Brazil by a single goal scored by star striker Pele.
Rob Page’s team will be hoping for a repeat of Wales’ successful run at Euro 2016, where they reached the semi-finals before losing to eventual champions Portugal.
Read more: Do Wales have a shot at World Cup victory?
Wales begin their World Cup campaign against the USA on 21 November at 7pm UK time, before playing Iran on 25 November at 10am and England on 29 November at 7pm.
Despite some bookmakers giving odds as high as around 400-1 for Wales to win the tournament, the country will be hoping actor Michael Sheen’s rousing motivational speech will inspire them to winning performances in Qatar.
Messi and Ronaldo’s last World Cup?
They are arguably the two greatest footballers in the history of the game but a World Cup win has so far evaded both players during their glittering careers.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are likely to be appearing at their last World Cup in Qatar, having both made their first appearances at the tournament in 2006.
Messi, now aged 35, has said that this will “surely” be his final World Cup as he captains Argentina in their bid for the trophy.
And while Portugal captain Ronaldo, now 37 years old, has voiced an ambition to play at Euro 2024, the 2026 World Cup may be a step too far for a player currently struggling to get into the Manchester United team.
What reaction will be there to Iran’s involvement?
With Russia banned from the World Cup over its invasion of Ukraine, there have been calls for Iran to be thrown out of the tournament after the country allegedly supplied weapons to aid Vladimir Putin’s attacks.
The Ukrainian football association asked FIFA to kick Iran out of the tournament over what it described as the country’s “systematic human rights violations” and “the possible involvement of Iran in the military aggression of Russia against Ukraine”.
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Former FIFA President Sepp Blatter also called for Iran to be excluded from the event in Qatar following widespread protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was detained for alleged violations of the country’s strict dress code.
FIFA has not agreed to the calls to throw out Iran and they will play in a group against England, Wales and the USA.
Which new stars will emerge?
While this year’s World Cup will star some of the most famous footballers on the planet, including Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, the tournament usually sees lesser known stars establish themselves on the world stage.
England’s teenage midfielder Jude Bellingham is hotly tipped to be a potential breakout star in Qatar.
Aged just 19, Bellingham has already captained German side Borussia Dortmund and scored four goals in his first Champions League matches this season.
Barcelona’s teenage midfielder Gavi is also expected to have a big impact for Spain at this year’s World Cup.
The 18-year-old was awarded the Kopa trophy in October, which is given to the best player in the world under the age of 21.
Source: The Sun