World Cup: Why Russia 2018 may be the last great summer of football

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Unlikely heroes, waistcoats & a buried curse: How England fell for football again

England fans have drenched themselves in beer and renewed passion for the national team this summer - a result of a fresh connection with the public that was lost following years of disappointing results.

This was the long hot summer of barbecues and big screens - and hope sprung forth once more that England can contend at major tournaments again, given a youthful squad and a strong cadre of emerging players at youth level.

But maybe things will never quite be the same as they were this summer. What if this was the last great summer of football?

To examine why that may be the case, we need to look at what lies ahead.

The Qatar World Cup will begin on 21 November 2022 and end seven days before Christmas, a compromise position struck between Fifa and global leagues given the intense heat in the Gulf state during the summer.

So if England fans are to congregate once more in parks and public squares to watch their team challenge for the trophy, it may well be mulled wine launched into the air to celebrate goals rather than plastic pints of lager.

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With domestic leagues suspended there will be an unusual wintry feel as international teams are assembled and prepare to play. Qatar 2022's organisers, though, are confident they will put on a World Cup to remember.

"Everybody said the Russia World Cup wouldn't be great," said Hassan Al Thawadi, the chief executive of Qatar 2022's supreme committee.

"The Russia World Cup came along and it blew people's minds. By the same token, we're confident of what 2022 is going to show - and it will be a fantastic World Cup. We'll build upon Russia's success."

Fans visiting Qatar to support England will find temperatures in the mid-20s - just as everyone back home is reaching for their winter coats and turning the central heating on.

But Qatar was always billed as a one-off - a chance to stretch football's borders with the first Arabic tournament.

Normality would be restored once 2026 rolled around. But now we know different.

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The USA, Canada and Mexico will jointly host that competition, with games stretching from Vancouver to Mexico City and Los Angeles to New York.

It will also be a 48-team event, with Fifa keen to expand and bring more nations to the party.

The consequences will be stark when compared to what we have witnessed over the past few weeks.

Spain and Portugal conjured a blockbusting 3-3 draw on day two of this World Cup. That was swiftly followed by Mexico defeating defending champions Germany and Argentina crashing to a heavy defeat against Croatia.

The drama, the excitement, and the jeopardy hit fans and teams right from the very start and didn't relent.

The 2026 tournament will be a much more drawn-out affair - given the extra 16 games which will result from 16 groups of three, with the top two qualifying for a knockout round of 32.

It will result in mouth-watering clashes between the biggest teams postponed until much later in the tournament.

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World Cup winner Jurgen Klinsmann feels the quality of the competition will be "diluted", but believes it is right to give the new format a try.

"It is what it is," said the German. "Maybe it gives more surprises, maybe it gives so-called weaker teams on paper a better chance to actually beat a big nation and kick them out of the World Cup. Who knows?

"Let's stay open-minded. We can judge it all after it's over."

Things are definitely set to change then - and the 32-team format is now consigned to history.

France have been crowned world champions - and Russia is saying dasvidanya to a tournament described as one of the best ever in terms of the sport and the organisation of the hosts.

Drink it in while the memories are still fresh. We may never see its like again.

The new season begins

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