LAS VEGAS — The draw for Qatar 2022 fittingly took place on April Fools’ Day, the first time FIFA determined its World Cup groups without knowing every participant.
No lip-synching crooners or Bedouin acrobats or even the potential next 007, although emcee Idris Elba’s odds are long, could mask the fact that only 29 squads of the field of 32 were placed into eight groups.
Two intercontinental spots and a European berth will be filled in June.
That’s FIFA. Every four years, though, the quadrennial event produces magnificent theater in spite of the buffoons who lord over the sport’s global governing body.
(Thankfully, the inane idea of staging it every two years appears to be disintegrating.)
It’s the first time an Arab country will play World Cup host, with the inevitable delay to November/December — another first — to escape the region’s infernal summer — the Devil’s Anvil, to parrot Peter O’Toole.
And that alteration delivered low blows to Nevada, Illinois, New York, New Jersey and the 27 other U.S. jurisdictions that have legal sports betting.
“I absolutely hate when it’s being played,” Westgate SuperBook executive director John Murray said. “It’ll be so bad for business, going up against [American] football. Those summers with the World Cup carried us. Massive business.
“I would have loved to have seen a [summer] World Cup in this new era, where sports betting is in more than half the states in the country. I can’t even imagine the volume we would have done.”
England-U.S. kicks off at 1 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 25, when Nebraska-Iowa, Florida-Florida State and other college football teams are on the slate.
The Spain-Germany clash is the most-anticipated group-stage match, also at 1 p.m., on Nov. 27 — an NFL Sunday. The World Cup championship match is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 18.
“It’ll be a one-off,” said Jeff Sherman, the SuperBook’s vice president of risk management. “They’ll do this and see that it isn’t successful. It returns to the U.S. [plus co-hosts Canada and Mexico] in 2026.
“At that point, we’ll have the highest handle ever for a World Cup. We’ll go from a regression this fall to an all-time high in four years.”
Vegas hosted the World Cup draw in December 1993, Sin City’s green felt luring FIFA suits despite no USA 94 matches being staged here.
Luciano Pavarotti highlighted the December 1989 draw in Rome. Today, with gli Azzurri missing an unfathomable second consecutive World Cup, the late opera legend would be sadder than Canio in “Pagliacci.”
At Madrid in January 1982, a machine foul-up required a redraw. The Guardian reported it resembling “something from a badly run village fête.”
The topper, however, might have occurred Jan. 5, 1974. Eleven-year-old choirboy Detlef Lange made a Frankfurt audience gasp, then applaud, when his innocent mitts pit East Germany with West Germany.
Dubbed ein Kampf zwischen brüdern, or “a struggle between brothers,” it was the only time the two adversaries battled at an international level during the 41-year history of East Germany.
The East German minnows won 1-0, but their Western brüdern ultimately lifted the trophy.
Shaqiri and the Swiss
Even so pock-marked, the World Cup is inimitable in passion and pomp. More than 1 billion TV viewers watched the France-Croatia finale of Russia 2018.
Xherdan Shaqiri, the Swiss midfielder who plays for the Fire, will participate in his fourth consecutive World Cup.
In three previous tournaments, he has recorded four goals and an assist. The SuperBook has Switzerland at 5-to-1 odds to win Group G, which includes Brazil, Cameroon and Serbia, and 100-1 to conquer Qatar.
Everything must be perfect, Shaqiri told the Fire’s website, to go far in a World Cup. “But you can always dream, in football and in normal life. I dream, also.”
Shaqiri, 30, has tallied a goal and two assists for the 2-0-3 Fire, only the fourth MLS side in 27 seasons to allow a single goal in its first five matches. The Fire play in Orlando at noon Saturday.
Keeper Gaga Slonina, the 6-4 Addison, Illinois, native who turns 18 in May, has been spectacular, and the Fire’s SuperBook odds of winning MLS Cup have been whittled from 60-1 to 30-1.
A Messi tourney?
Before South Africa 2010, I dreamt, too . . . of fattening my wallet. I wagered $300 with then-colleague Brett Okamoto that the U.S. would not win a World Cup up through and including 2030.
We’re generations behind the premier futebol nations, and that always gets exploited at this level. Nothing exemplified that more than the U.S. failing to qualify for Russia 2018.
In Qatar, the Christian Pulisic-led Americans will have experience playing for Europe’s elite sides. The U.S. is +600 to win Group B, which includes -300 England, 20-1 Iran and either Wales, Scotland or Ukraine.
I still savor my bet, though. A few days ago, I offered Okamoto, ESPN’s ace MMA scribe, a $100 buy-out. “Hahahaha,” he texted back. “Never surrender!”
Nice. Game on. Perhaps, too, the slapstick, messy theme of Qatar 2022 is a harbinger. That 34-year-old Lionel Messi, who has six goals and three assists in 19 matches at four World Cups, and Argentina will thrive.
Messi is +800 to +1400 to win the tourney’s Golden Boot, with the most goals, and La Albiceleste is +900 to win that ugly golden glob of a trophy.
Couldn’t possibly be that simple.