The beautiful game on its biggest stage: Watching the World Cup in Shanghai

Alexander Bushroe
Even if football doesn't strike your fancy, the environment and camaraderie and rivalry and tension in the air can bring the excitement out of just about anyone.
Alexander Bushroe

Shot by Sun Minjie. Edited by Sun Minjie. Subtitles by Wang Xinzhou.

The 2022 rendition of the FIFA World Cup is set to begin! The grand global football tournament kicks off at 12am midnight, Beijing time, on Sunday night/Monday morning as the host nation of Qatar faces off against Ecuador in group-stage play.

Though for many of you, the World Cup likely needs no introduction or explanation whatsoever, we'll break it down in a bit of detail for the uninitiated.

Much like the Summer or Winter Olympics, the World Cup happens only once every four years and is one of the most ― and perhaps the very most ― watched and anticipated sporting competitions on Earth.

Football teams representing nations and territories all across the globe consisting of the best players their lands have to offer compete in preliminary qualifying matches before the Cup begins. These teams vie for the 32 spots available in the World Cup tournament. The qualifying countries' squads then travel to the host nation to duke it out on the pitch and determine the world champion.

As the event happens only on a quadrennial basis, it is a cherished opportunity for people around the world to come together and support their favorite teams and players. Many people elect to cheer for their home country's team if they've qualified, but even if not, fans can root for their favorite players from around the world and enjoy the pageantry and spirit of the event.

In fact, many people who usually don't watch football or pay attention to sports at all tune in to view the World Cup. Even if football doesn't strike your fancy, the environment and camaraderie and rivalry and tension in the air can bring the excitement out of just about anyone.

The 2022 tournament, as mentioned, will take place in Qatar, a small country located on the Arabian Peninsula extending into the Persian Gulf. The country has spent record amounts on facilities and preparations to host the event, and it is largely because of the hot, arid climate there that the tournament is taking place in late Autumn as opposed to earlier in the year.

The field of teams is peppered with many of the usual suspects; countries that have either won the Cup or performed well and come close to a championship in years past. Many nations in Europe and South America ― the only two continents from which World Cup champions have hailed ― have rich football histories and have been home to some of the game's greatest players.

As such, past champions Spain, Germany, France, Brazil, Argentina, England and also Uruguay, champion of the inaugural World Cup in 1930, are all in the fray. Notably absent is powerhouse and four-time champion Italy ― my apologies for bringing it up, Italian readers ― who shockingly failed to qualify for this year's tournament.

I, however, prefer to cheer for the dark horses in the event; those countries who've never hoisted the trophy, including my own country, the United States, which does not have the same tradition of excellence in football as the aforementioned nations. Other countries across Asia, Africa and North America, as well as smaller countries in Europe and South America, are fun to support, especially when one makes a deep run into the knockout round. During the last Cup tournament in 2018, Croatia advanced all the way to the final match before eventually coming up short versus champion France.

Viewing the matches from here in Shanghai is easy, as they are available on television (CCTV-5) as well as online streaming platforms. The biggest hindrance, though, is timing, as Qatar's local time is five hours behind Beijing time. This means that, while some matches will begin as early as 6pm here in China, most don't kick off until 9pm, 12am, or even as late ― or early ― as 3am.

Fear not, though, as this won't deter avid football lovers who've been waiting since 2018 to see World Cup action once again. In my experiences watching the previous three World Cups in Shanghai, all of which took place at similarly late hours of the night, the city was alive with excitement for each match.

Shanghai residents hailing from participating countries would flock to their favorite establishments to watch their team fight for victory together, regardless of the time of day or night. Fans whose nation wasn't playing at the time or didn't qualify joined them to soak up the action.

I remember during the 2014 Cup here in the city watching England play in a pub full of spirited English supporters, seeing Greece earn a victory on the rooftop of a crowded Greek-owned restaurant, and joining a crowd of Italian friends to watch the Azzurri (the Italian national team) play... all in the same night!

Local Shanghai football fans also turned up en masse, of course. Whether China qualifies for the tournament or not, Shanghai is always alight with excitement for the World Cup. During the previous tournament in 2018, total viewers in China reached 655.7 million, the most of any nation in the world, accounting for over 18 percent of total global viewership.

So whether you decide to enjoy the atmosphere out on the town or if you prefer the comfort of the sofa at home, tune in to check out the action. The tournament concludes with the final match, which begins at 11pm on December 18, so even if you miss the first few games, there will still be plenty to come.

And if you're a bit bleary-eyed at work a time or two over the next month from staying up late to catch some of the action, you certainly won't be the only one.

Game on!

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