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Dispatch from Doha: Farewell to a one-of-a-kind World Cup

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DOHA – Farewell then, Qatar 2022. A World Cup that promised many firsts, delivered some lasts too, and right till the very end, split opinion.

This was the first tournament to be held in the Middle East and Arab world, and the first since the pandemic which changed everyone’s lives.

The end of Sunday’s final will mean we also bid adieu to the 32-team format – in place since 1998 – which will make way for an expansion to 48 sides in four years’ time, as well as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the two top players of the last 15 years, whose rivalry for greatness and 12 Ballon d’Ors shared defined a generation.

Goodbye too La’eeb, this World Cup’s mascot, an anthropomorphic ghutra (traditional Arabic headdress) that appears to be omnipresent in Qatar.

La’eeb, according to Fifa, can be credited with part in Diego Maradona’s Hand of God goal, and is “indescribable”. Everyone is invited to interpret what it looks like.

Mine is simple. He is a floating white sheet with, I have to hesitantly admit, a very cute face. But it is unnerving seeing him everywhere.

He can be found on bunting around the city, slapped on posters found on walls, bus stops and construction barricades, or immortalised in pewter in gift shops. There is even an “Ask La’eeb” machine at the metro.

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