Saturday, 5 February 2011
Kilkenny is determined to turn up the heat for Leeds
The Middle East country was too small, it has just one major city and no big football stadia. A population of just 1.5m would, the critics also argued, lead to games being played in front of huge swathes of empty seats, while Qatar's lack of a footballing pedigree – the national team has never even come close to qualifying for a finals in the past – would make a mockery of the tournament.
By far the most troubling aspect of FIFA's decision, however, was the searing heat that would make playing the finals in the summer months near impossible. Vague mention had been made during the bidding process of how Qatar would construct huge air-conditioned stadia but, thanks to the tiny Gulf state not truly being considered serious bidders compared to the US and Australia, few took much notice.
All that changed the moment FIFA revealed, after the fourth round of polling, that Qatar had beaten the United States by 14 votes to eight. Serious questions suddenly started to be asked of the victorious bid, and in particular how it was going to be possible to host a World Cup amid temperatures that peak at 50 degrees.
Within days we had our answer as the idea of shifting the 2022 World Cup to winter was first mooted. The major leagues around the world were understandably not impressed, pointing out that up to three seasons would be disrupted by such a change.
The debate is continuing, though FIFA president Sepp Blatter's remarks at the opening ceremony of the Asia Cup last month that winter was the most sensible option suggest a final decision has already been made.
One man who knows about the demands of playing in Qatar is Neil Kilkenny, the Leeds United midfielder having spent the past month in the Emirate state trying to win the Asia Cup with Australia.
The Socceroos' mission ended in disappointment with Japan beating a side featuring Harry Kewell and Tim Cahill in the final courtesy of an extra-time winner from Tadanari Lee. Despite that, Kilkenny enjoyed the experience and believes Qatar will put on a real show for the world in 2022.
The 25-year-old does, however, have serious reservations about the timing of that World Cup in 11 years.
"In the Asia Cup, the games were played at 4pm and 7pm to try and make sure the heat was not too much of a problem," said the United player. "But it was still hot. The temperature was about 25 degrees and quite humid so it wasn't unbearable for those of us playing or anything like that.
"But it was still hot. The big problem for football would come in the summer. I have been out there at that time of year and it really is very, very, very hot.
"As a player, playing at this time of year makes a lot more sense as we don't want to play in the heat and humidity of a summer. It is what I would definitely prefer due to it getting so hot in Qatar.
"The problem, though, is that playing a World Cup in winter would cause all sorts of problems for the leagues. For the Asia Cup, the leagues just carried on but that couldn't happen for a World Cup because all the star players in the Premier League or wherever would be missing for weeks.
"That is why I just can't see them changing the timing, which is a shame for the players."
Kilkenny flew back into England last Monday afternoon and was on the bench for Leeds a little over 24 hours later when Simon Grayson's side fought out a 2-2 draw at Hull City.
While he was away, United emerged from a demanding schedule that included two FA Cup ties against Arsenal and trips to promotion-chasing Cardiff City and Portsmouth still firmly in the hunt for promotion. Now back at Elland Road, Kilkenny is determined to do his bit in the race for the Premier League and believes his experience in the Asia Cup – he came off the bench in three of Australia's six games –- will be useful.
He said: "The Asia Cup was a good experience and something I really enjoyed. The standard was good. People in England may not know too much about the teams, with the possible exception of South Korea and Japan, because they are from Asia.
"But they are technically very good. Defensively, some of the teams may not be the best but they can keep the ball well and attack very well."
Kilkenny was an unused substitute in Australia's opening two group games as India were beaten 4-0 and South Korea claimed a 1-1 draw. His first involvement then came in the final group game as the Socceroos booked their place in the knockout stages with a 1-0 victory over Bahrain.
Iraq were beaten by the same scoreline in the last eight as Kilkenny again came off the bench before Uzbekistan were swept aside 6-0 in the semi-finals to set up a meeting with Japan last Saturday.
The Leeds midfielder said: "The final was watched by a crowd of 50,000 and we should really have won. We had a lot of chances but just couldn't score and then Japan got the winner in extra-time. I came off the bench again and it was disappointing not to win the game, though at least I can always say I have played in an Asia Cup final.
"Overall, I really enjoyed the experience. I flew out there (the day after Leeds had drawn 1-1 with Middlesbrough) not really expecting to play. I knew the situation and just wanted to show what I could do to the manager.
"Luckily, I was given that chance when I came off the bench against the United Arab Emirates in a warm-up friendly and the manager was pleased. I had to sit out the first two group games but it was great to come off the bench against Bahrain and help the team win.
"After the final, the manager said he was pleased with me. He then said, 'Concentrate on playing well and regularly for your club'."
With 17 games of the Championship season remaining, Kilkenny is determined to do just that and help mark what is likely to be his final season at Elland Road – his contract expires in the summer and talks broke down last year – with a second promotion.
He said: "I left for the Asia Cup when we were second in the table and I wanted the lads to carry on doing well. They have not picked up as many points in the last couple of weeks but, hopefully, now I am back we can go on a run."