It's the first World Cup to be played out of the usual summer season. / EP

The Winter World Cup

Expect to see footballers in peak physical condition like never before

Rob Palmer
ROB PALMER

Let the games begin! Please let the games begin and all the pretentious posturing and politics be cast aside.

This must be the first World Cup tournament when there have been more news correspondents assigned than sports reporters. The awarding of the prestigious event to Qatar was highly questionable; but this is nothing new. The venues for almost every previous World Cup Finals have been down to political and financial decisions.

FIFA, football's governing body, claimed they wanted to take the event to all the continents; on the face of things, they are just keeping their promise. It has been well documented that the voting system is flawed - to put it diplomatically. And that's how we ended up with Qatar.

Doha is different – very different. The values and beliefs in the Middle East are a stark contrast to the West. On my visit, understanding that alcohol was banned in public, I decided to take a bottle of gin from duty free for a late-night tipple. It was confiscated by customs on arrival (and returned on departure).

It wasn't the last time I saw alcohol, contrary to what I was expecting. There were plenty of bars and clubs. The city of Doha is a mass of five-star hotels and the doors are open to those who want to take in refreshments. Just don't go on the razz in the middle of town and you'll be ok.

It's quite a cultural mix, with business-folk, travellers and football fans all rubbing shoulders in the desert. It's a strange place, a mix of Singapore and Canary Wharf in London where there is great opulence. However, there are bazaars, food and artistic markets where people are very pleasant. You just note that drink isn't at the centre of society. In fact, the only drunks I encountered were two local fellas turfed out of our hotel bar in their full robes and headdresses.

How they were gifted the event is questionable, as is the decision to play it in November and December. I'm going to break the journalistic mould here and say that I think the winter World Cup is groundbreaking.

Just look how few of the top stars are missing through injury. When the finals are held in the summer, they are shattered after seasons of 50-plus games and there are always injuries.

Almost every nation has a full complement of players and those players are in peak condition after just a few months of club football. This could lead to the standard rising to a new level. As half of the teams won't progress beyond the group stages, they won't return to their clubs fatigued.

Personally, I can't wait to watch the most talented footballers do battle as I escape the European winter outside. Who'll win? I will expand on this in the next few weeks but here's the spoiler, it won't be Spain or England. Both have impressive squads, but lack the truly world-class talent to go all the way.

For me, it will be Brazil or Argentina who have exceptional individuals in well-balanced teams and the climate will suit them. France and Germany will fly the European flag as the games advance.

Anyway, enough of the talking: let the games begin.