Never will the first whistle sound more shrill.
A clarion call to the world’s greatest footballers but, amid the piercing decibels, wails of protest will not go unheard.
Silently, subtly, or simply by not turning up, a still-disbelieving football family and wider world will make its disapproval known.
At US$300 billion, the Qatar World Cup is the biggest heist in sporting history, and one where the games end up being played in the robbers’ den.
The majority of the 22-strong Fifa exco committee that gave it the nod in 2010 have been accused, banned or indicted over allegations of corruption or wrongdoing.
Back then, the host nation had only one stadium, scant football pedigree, barely two million people and searing summer temperatures.
It also had – and still has – baggage: human rights abuses, treatment of women and LGBTQs; while alcohol and beds are expensive and in short supply.
Scour all Fifa’s 211 members and it would be hard to find a less suitable host for a global football festival.
Yet it was “chosen” over the United States, Japan, South Korea and Australia.
Qatar vehemently denies any wrongdoing.
So, that’s the backdrop to the extravaganza that kicks off at midnight on Sunday in Malaysia.
Count ourselves lucky: with no skin in the tournament and friendlier than usual kick-off times.
And not having to pay RM70 for a pint of a much-maligned American beer, we should be able to enjoy it.
It might even be a decent watch.
After a slow start, there could be some titanic tussles along the way, not to mention fascinating stories.
In many ways, Ecuador and Qatar is an apt opener.
It’s between a country that many feel shouldn’t be there and one that even more feel shouldn’t be hosting.
Half of South America thinks Ecuador should not have gone due to fielding an ineligible player, but Fifa merely slapped a three-point deduction on them next time.
We know what everyone thinks about Qatar. But they are Asian champions, the team has been together for years and they are at home.
On Sunday night, the only fireworks are likely to be in the opening ceremony.
The other two members of Group A, Netherlands and African champions Senegal are the likely qualifiers.
Each could provide the kind of a fascinating story for which the World Cup is famous.
Senegal believes it can win the thing and thus become the first African nation to do so.
But much will depend on the fitness of superstar Sadio Mane who is likely to miss the group games through injury.
Netherlands make a welcome return, but for manager Louis van Gaal, it could be a poignant farewell.
The former Manchester United boss, now 70, has survived 25 radiation treatments for prostate cancer and all of football wishes him well.
A young, improving side could give him the best possible tonic.
Monday night sees England take on Iran. Again, goals may be hard to come by given the safety-first approach of both managers.
England’s Gareth Southgate is also hampered by the poor form of Raheem Sterling and the exhaustion of Harry Kane.
England’s regression – they were relegated in the Nation’s League – since reaching the final and semi-final of their last two tournaments means they’re no longer one of the favourites.
Tiredness from the frantic EPL season may also have taken its toll, but they should still survive the group with either Wales or the United States.
Many European teams may find the heat draining so it’s no wonder bookies have Brazil and Argentina as favourites.
The Argentines are desperate to create the biggest story of all and give Lionel Messi the trophy his talent deserves in his fifth World Cup. But on paper Brazil look stronger.
Messi will try to pace himself, but should do enough to see his team qualify from Group C along with Poland, led by Robert Lewandowski.
It will be good to see Raul Jimenez get a game – he has not played since August and not been quite the same for Wolves since breaking his skull.
Neither Mexico nor Saudi Arabia will lack supporters, but they may not be staying for long.
Defending champions France start against Australia in Group D and will be missing both N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba from their engine room.
But in replacements Eduardo Camavinga and Aurelien Tchouameni, Les Bleus have two of the most exciting next gen talents around.
Denmark, with Christian Eriksen making his tournament comeback after his heart stopped in the Euros, should also advance at the expense of the Socceroos and Tunisia.
The nearest thing to a group of death is Group E where giants Germany and Spain are joined by Japan and Costa Rica.
The Japanese usually get through the group stage but will be pushed this time.
Both Germany (2014) and Spain (2010) are recent winners of the trophy and will be out to redeem themselves after their shocking early exits in 2018.
Belgium’s aging squad will do well to repeat their third place in Russia and have Eden Hazard fit again.
They should advance from Group F where Canada, in for the first time in 36 years, might be a surprise package with Bayern’s flying wing-back Alphonso Davies the star.
Beaten 2018 finalists Croatia are in the group along with Morocco.
Brazil lurk in Group G where they have Serbia, Cameroon and Switzerland for company.
The Selecao have so much talent they can afford to leave Bobby Firmino out, but this will surely be Neymar’s last chance to do justice to his talents.
Who goes through with them is anybody’s guess.
Cristiano Ronaldo will always try to be the story and his Portugal are in Group H along with South Korea, Ghana and Uruguay.
CR7’s team will be favourites to qualify but Uruguay, with old hands Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and new boy Darwin Nunez up front, won’t lack firepower.
There’s enough there to focus our attention on football and, hopefully, it will be a feast. But no one should forget how we got here.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.
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