World Cup 2022: When does it start? How to watch? Why Qatar? And who will win it?

(Graphic by Michael Wagstaffe)
(Graphic by Michael Wagstaffe) ((Graphic by Michael Wagstaffe))

The 2022 World Cup, the first men’s World Cup outside its traditional summer window, will be played in November and December in Qatar. In many ways, at least on television in the U.S., it will look very similar to other editions of the world’s most popular sporting event. But in other ways, it will be strange, unique and controversial. Here’s everything you need to know about it.

When is the 2022 World Cup?

The 2022 World Cup begins Nov. 20 — one day earlier than its original start date — and concludes Dec. 18.

FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, made the unprecedented decision to move the tournament out of June and July to avoid Qatar’s scorching summer heat.

European clubs, whose seasons run from August through May, will pause for the World Cup, which will be compressed into four weeks. The group stage will last just 13 days instead of the usual 15. The knockout rounds begin Dec. 3. Here’s the schedule.

Where is the 2022 World Cup?

The 2022 World Cup will be held in Qatar — a tiny peninsular emirate on the Persian gulf — and specifically in metropolitan Doha, where over 80% of the country’s 2.9 million people live.

All eight stadiums are within 40 miles and 50-minute drives of one another, in and around the Qatari capital. Six of the eight did not exist in 2010 when Qatar won hosting rights.

Some estimates say Qatar has spent over $200 billion on World Cup-related infrastructure.

What time are games? And what’s the time difference in Qatar?

The biggest games, including all three U.S. group games, kick off at 10 p.m. in Qatar, which translates to 2 p.m. ET. The time difference will be eight hours to ET, nine to CT, and 11 to PT.

In the group stage, that means early starts for viewers in the United States. The World Cup opener — Qatar versus Senegal on Sunday, Nov. 20 — kicks off at 11 a.m. ET. From Nov. 22 through Nov. 28, there are four standalone matches per day, beginning at 5 a.m., 8 a.m., 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. ET. (That’s 2, 5, 8 and 11 a.m. on the West Coast.)

Round of 16 and quarterfinal matches begin at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. ET. The semifinals and final are at 2 p.m. ET.

[More: Full World Cup schedule; Schedule chart with local kickoff times]

DUESSELDORF, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 23: Team United States line up for a photo prior to the International Friendly match between Japan and United States at Merkur Spiel-Arena on September 23, 2022 in Duesseldorf, Germany. (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Getty Images)
The USMNT, shown here ahead of a friendly versus Japan on Sept. 23, 2022 in Duesseldorf, Germany, will face Wales in its World Cup opener on Nov. 21. (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Getty Images) (Christof Koepsel via Getty Images)

How to watch World Cup games on TV, mobile and online

Fox and Fox Sports 1 will televise all 64 games in English in the U.S., while Telemundo (and, when there are simultaneous games, its cable companion Universo) will broadcast the entire tournament in Spanish.

Their streaming platforms — the Fox Sports and Telemundo Deportes apps — will also carry every game live.

Fox will show 35 games — including the opener, all three U.S. group games, and every match from the quarterfinals onward — on its main broadcast network, but some early morning and weekend matches will be bumped to FS1 by non-sports programming or American football.

When are the U.S. games, and who are the opponents?

The U.S. men’s national team, colloquially called the USMNT, was drawn into Group B alongside England, Iran and Wales. It gets the Welsh first, but the headliner is a Black Friday showdown with England. Here’s the schedule:

• Monday, Nov. 21 vs. Wales (2 p.m. ET, Fox/Telemundo)
• Friday, Nov. 25 vs. England (2 p.m. ET, Fox/Telemundo)
• Tuesday, Nov. 29 vs. Iran (2 p.m. ET, Fox/Telemundo)

If the U.S. wins the group, it would play its Round of 16 match on Sunday, Dec. 4, against the runner-up from Group A (Qatar, the Netherlands, Senegal or Ecuador). That game, at 2 p.m. ET on FS1, would overlap with a full NFL slate.

If the U.S. finishes second, it would face the Group A winner on Saturday, Dec. 3 at 10 a.m. ET on Fox.

If the U.S. finishes outside the top two, it would be eliminated just eight days into the tournament.

England is the favorite to top the group, but all three opponents present challenges. Here are some Group B scouting reports.

[More: 22 questions about the USMNT at the 2022 World Cup, answered]

Who are the World Cup favorites?

Brazil, which has won the men’s World Cup more than any other nation, is favored (+400 at BetMGM) to claim a sixth title.

France, the defending champ, is the joint-second-favorite at +600, but stumbled through its tune-ups, and has been decimated by injury.

Among the other contenders, Argentina — in Lionel Messi’s final World Cup campaign — is the best bet. Its 2018-era dysfunction has dissipated. La Albiceleste, as they’re known, are unbeaten in their last 34 games dating back to 2019, and recently ripped apart Italy in La Finalissima, a showdown between the continental champions of Europe and South America.

But even after those three, six other nations could realistically win the 2022 World Cup.

[More: 2022 World Cup power rankings]

Could the U.S. win the World Cup?

Unlike eight years ago, when then-coach Jurgen Klinsmann insisted that “we cannot win this World Cup,” and unlike four years ago, when the U.S. didn’t even qualify, this USMNT has big dreams. When players gathered for their first training camp since qualifying for the 2022 edition, head coach Gregg Berhalter projected a picture of the World Cup trophy onto a blank canvas and asked them: “Why can’t we compete for this?”

Realistically, the answer remains what it was in 2014. As Klinsmann said, “it is just not realistic.” The team’s odds are +10000 — an implied probability of 1%.

But the USMNT is younger and more talented than ever before — young and talented enough to give it semifinal upside, and to put contention in 2026 within the realm of possibility.

Who will be on the U.S. roster?

Cristian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams are the names to know. Yunus Musah and Brenden Aaronson are rising stars. They’re five of roughly 20 roster locks, if healthy — which is an increasingly big "if."

The final 26-man squad will be announced on Nov. 9 (5 p.m. ET, ESPN2), a few days before the Nov. 14 deadline. Until then, here is our latest prediction.

DUESSELDORF, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 23: Gregg Berhalter, Head Coach of Team United States looks on prior to the International Friendly match between Japan and United States at Merkur Spiel-Arena on September 23, 2022 in Duesseldorf, Germany. (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Getty Images)
U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter's World Cup squad will be announced on Nov. 9. (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Getty Images) (Christof Koepsel via Getty Images)

What are the must-watch group games?

If you’re going to put 10 non-U.S. games on your calendar — and if you’re seeking drama, quality and global flavor — our picks would be:

• Nov. 21: Netherlands (-145) vs. Senegal | 11 a.m., Fox
• Nov. 22: Poland (+155) vs. Mexico | 11 a.m., Fox
• Nov. 23: Belgium (-350) vs. Canada | 2 p.m., Fox
• Nov. 24: Brazil (-200) vs. Serbia | 2 p.m., Fox
• Nov. 26: France (-110) vs. Denmark | 11 a.m., FS1
• Nov. 26: Argentina (-155) vs. Mexico | 2 p.m., FS1
• Nov. 27: Spain (+155) vs. Germany | 2 p.m., FS1
• Nov. 28: Portugal (+105) vs. Uruguay | 2 p.m., Fox
• Dec. 1: Belgium (-110) vs. Croatia | 10 a.m., TBD
• Dec. 2: Switzerland (+145) vs. Serbia | 2 p.m., TBD

(All times ET. Numbers in parentheses are betting odds for the favorite. TV listings and intrigue levels for the third round of group games, beginning Nov. 29, are subject to change. The full list of groups and matchups is here.)

How do you pronounce Qatar?

The proper pronunciation — the one that will roll off local tongues throughout the World Cup — cannot be spelled out with a Latin alphabet. “The pronunciation in English is different because the word uses two letters that only exist in Arabic,” Ali Al-Ansari, a Qatari government media attaché, told Yahoo Sports via email. The accepted pronunciation “would sound like saying: Kuh-TAR.”

Which World Cup regulars failed to qualify for Qatar 2022?

Italy, shockingly, lost to North Macedonia and will miss a second straight men’s World Cup. Colombia, Chile, Nigeria and Egypt will also be absent. Sweden was the next-best European team to miss out. Russia was banned, and booted out of a qualifying playoff, following its invasion of Ukraine.

Will the world’s top players all be in Qatar?

Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will be back for their fifth, and likely last, World Cups — though Ronaldo is far from a top player at this point. Three of the top seven on The Guardian’s 2021 list of the world’s best players, however — Egypt’s Mo Salah, Italy’s Jorginho and Norway’s Erling Haaland — won’t be in Qatar.

Others who were absent in 2018, however, will be present. France’s Karim Benzema is back from national-team exile to partner with Kylian Mbappe. Gareth Bale, though no longer an elite winger, will finally make his World Cup debut. And Poland’s Robert Lewandowski, the two-time reigning FIFA player of the year, will go in search of his first World Cup goal.

The only remaining roadblock for the world's biggest stars is injury. The list of casualties is mounting.

How will the winter World Cup disrupt their club seasons?

Most top European leagues began at least a week earlier than usual to accommodate the World Cup. The German Bundesliga and English Premier League, for example, kicked off Aug. 5.

They will all take World Cup breaks by Monday, Nov. 14, the date by which all professional clubs, in every country worldwide, will be required to release players to their national teams.

The UEFA Champions League has also shifted its entire group stage forward so that it can wrap up by Nov. 2.

The Premier League will resume on Boxing Day, Dec. 26, eight days after the World Cup final. Spain’s La Liga restarts Dec. 31, and Italy’s Serie A on Jan. 4. The Bundesliga, meanwhile, will tack its traditional winter break onto the World Cup break, and won’t resume until Jan. 21.

How will national teams adapt for a winter World Cup?

National teams will be venturing into a great unknown, without extended training camps to prepare for the World Cup, and susceptible to form fluctuations or injuries sustained by stars at clubs. The U.S., for example, has played just two underwhelming friendlies in the five months preceding its opener.

With the MLS regular season concluding Oct. 9, and all but two finalists done by November, some USMNT players based domestically have gathered for a "fitness camp" in Texas before heading to Qatar. (Some youth national teamers have joined them to make it a “functional group,” as Berhalter has said.) But European-based players, who comprise a majority of the USMNT, will join up with teammates, coaches and staff in Qatar on Nov. 13 or 14 — seven or eight days before their curtain-raiser against Wales.

Here’s more on the oddities of 2022 World Cup prep.

Will anybody protest or boycott?

Nobody expects teams or players to boycott. Some, though, have staged small-scale protests to highlight human rights abuses in Qatar. Dutch players promised to “use our football for change.” German players lined up before a qualifier in handmade shirts that spelled out “H-U-M-A-N R-I-G-H-T-S.” Australian players recently released a video advocating for better treatment of migrant workers and LGBTQ people in Qatar.

The biggest statement so far has come from Denmark's kit manufacturer, Hummel. Logos on the Danish jerseys will be “toned down” because, as Hummel said after releasing the kits, “We don’t wish to be visible during a tournament that has cost thousands of people their lives.” (That claim about "thousands of lives," though, is disputed.)

The U.S. Soccer Federation, meanwhile, says it has hired a “compliance officer” to ensure that the vendors it uses in Qatar are ones that treat employees humanely. It has also brought in experts to educate USMNT players about their host. Players say they’ve had “discussions” about making statements come November, but in the past, they’ve focused primarily on issues that plague their own nation — such as gun violence.

Why is the Qatar World Cup so controversial?

Human rights groups have highlighted Qatar’s systemic exploitation and mistreatment of migrant workers, many of whom helped build World Cup stadiums and Doha infrastructure from scratch.

Under the “kafala” system, millions of people from countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and India paid recruitment fees to move to Qatar, where they were contractually bound to their employers with little to no protections against horrific working conditions and unpaid wages. Even FIFA president Gianni Infantino has likened the system to “modern slavery.”

The World Cup’s spotlight, coupled with pressure from the International Labor Organization and others, led to the abolishment of kafala in Qatar, but researchers and advocates have found “huge gaps between Qatar's reform claims and the actual lived reality for migrant laborers on the ground,” as Minky Worden, a director at Human Rights Watch, said this past winter. Those experts say that, despite some progress, many aspects of the kafala system remain in place. FIFA argues, generally, that the abuses are out of its control, and that the World Cup is partially responsible for the reforms.

Fans also worry about LGBTQ rights and women’s rights in the host country, where homosexuality is illegal and many young women need male-guardian permission to do things like marry and study. Qatari and FIFA officials have said that "everybody's welcome" at the tournament, but several LGBTQ fans told Yahoo Sports that they won't be traveling to the World Cup because they'd fear for their personal safety.

What other problems will the Qatar World Cup present?

You’ll probably see headlines stemming from Qatari laws prohibiting pre-marital sex and public consumption of alcohol. It’s unclear how strictly those laws will be enforced in November and December, and unclear how festive the World Cup will be. Alcohol will be sold at an official "fan fest" and within stadium compounds, but not in stadium concourses.

The 2022 World Cup’s biggest logistical nightmare, however, is space. Qatar is smaller than Connecticut. It expects to welcome some 1 million foreign fans, but doesn’t have nearly enough hotel rooms for them. Some will stay on docked cruise ships, or at campsites on the outskirts of Doha. Others will stay in neighboring countries and fly in and out for matches. In general, it’s not quite clear how well the city will be able to handle the influx of visitors.

How did Qatar get the World Cup? Was there corruption?

Qatar won a sensationally shady bid for hosting rights way back in 2010. FIFA’s 24-member executive committee chose the petrostate over the U.S. in a final-round vote. (Two of the 24 executives were prevented from voting because they’d already been caught agreeing to sell their votes.)

A few years later, with many suspecting corruption, American investigator Michael Garcia produced a 430-page report that did not offer proof of vote-buying, but did detail loads of questionable behavior. Various high-ranking soccer officials who took part have since been banned from the sport or indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice. The DOJ finally said in a 2020 indictment that “several executive committee members were offered or received bribes in connection with their votes” — for both Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022.

Where is the next men’s World Cup?

After missing out on 2022, the U.S. partnered with Canada and Mexico to win hosting rights for 2026. That tournament, the first World Cup with 48 teams, will be held in 16 cities across North America.

When and where is the next Women’s World Cup?

After Qatar, the next World Cup is next year’s Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. It begins July 20, 2023.