Jonathan Wilson at The Paris Review:
Enough about the past. We are about to step into Qatar’s balmy winter, average 70 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit, with high humidity to be dispersed by serious AC in the outdoor stadiums. Of the more than two hundred national teams that set out on this journey four years ago, only thirty-two remain, eight groups of four, the top two in each group to move on to the knockout stage. The games will run for almost a month, culminating in a final on December 18.. As is almost always the case, Brazil is favored to win, followed by Argentina, France, England, and Spain, and you never rule out Germany. All these countries have lifted the trophy before, and wouldn’t it be great if someone else crashed the party? After all, Croatia (population 3.8 million) made it to the finals the last time out, and the ageless midfield genius Luka Modrić still runs their show. There is always Kevin De Bruyne’s Belgium (population 11.5 million) or, for a real long shot, Africa’s best hope, Senegal.