With FIFA shifting Qatar's 2022 World Cup to the winter and expanding the 2026 World Cup to 48 teams, the 2018 version will be the last of the way we've come to love.

By 90Min
May 31, 2018

The St. George's flags are starting to be unfurled, dusty old vintage 1998 England tops taken out of the cupboard, Baddiel and Skinner loaded up on Spotify...World Cup fever is almost upon us.

With all major domestic club issues save for the small matter of the Champions League final now settled, thoughts are inevitably turning towards the opening game in Russia, now just less than two weeks away.

This fervent build up is all part and parcel of the experience for football fans from all nations, yet the giddiness for the most famous competition in world sport to begin is somewhat soured this time around by the feeling that this may be the last 'classic' World Cup we ever experience.

The controversy and issues surrounding the 2022 edition to take place in Qatar are so well-documented that they barely need going over. A seemingly totally corrupt bidding process has been followed by shocking human rights abuses where a staggering 1200 workers have allegedly lost their lives during construction work on the sites. 

Surely it is already the most controversial World Cup of all time, and we still have four years to go before it even takes place. Will we really be able to get as excited about the competition as we usually do? It would seem almost immoral to do so.

2022 will also be the first time that the World Cup is held in winter, with it still being unclear how this is going to affect domestic club football. The World Cup and summer go together like chalk and cheese, and it will be a big and alien adjustment to make, both for fans and players.

Forget a sunny beers garden with your mates, it is more likely you'll be huddled around a TV with the central heating on full blast, not exactly the image you associate with supporting the Three Lions at an international tournament. 

Looking forward, it is still unclear where the competition will take place four years afterwards in 2026, although Morocco has been rumoured as an intriguing potential destination. This edition of the competition, however, will be the first in which 48 teams participate - a ridiculously high number which will surely lead to low quality matches and poor crowd attendances.

Sure, there will inevitably be some boring games in Russia this year, and it is unlikely that you will be rushing home from work to watch Japan vs Senegal, but the proposed new system of 16 groups of three teams, with the top two going through, will surely lead to so many dead rubber matches that the unique spirit and competitiveness of the tournament will be in jeopardy. 

Plus, won't somebody think of the Panini sticker collections? You'd need to re-mortgage your house to finish it all.

Further in the future than that, who knows what could happen. With FIFA in the state it currently is - dysfunctional, corrupt and shamelessly money obsessed - nothing would be surprising. What new gimmick will they come up with for World Cup 2030? The first competition to take place on the moon, perhaps? It would probably still have a better atmosphere than Qatar will.

So this is quite possibly the last time we will enjoy a World Cup in its current format: 32 nations battling it out in by-and-large fiercely contested matches, in a country that, while not perfect, at least offers some footballing heritage and history. Soak up every minute of the beautiful game at its very best, because future versions of the event could very well become hugely disappointing. 

Suddenly Switzerland vs Costa Rica doesn't look so unappealing after all. 

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