Solidifying greatness: History made at the controversial 2022 FIFA World Cup

The 2022 FIFA World Cup held in Qatar last November 20 to December 28 was a tournament filled with surprises and unforgettable moments. From the group stages to the final, fans around the world were treated to some of the most exciting and dramatic football in recent memory. The tournament featured 32 teams from around the globe, all vying for the chance to be crowned world champions. 

With the tournament concluded and the dust settled, it’s time to take a look back at some of the iconic moments and events that defined this historic tournament. From controversies, surprises, and upsets, to memorable goals and performances, the action-packed World Cup was definitely one for the books.

Mired in controversy

The highly-anticipated tournament was surrounded by controversy even before the first kick-off. One of the main criticisms was the host country’s human rights record, with concerns raised about the treatment of migrant workers who built the infrastructure in anticipation of the high influx of spectators. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations had reported on the exploitation and abuse of migrant workers in Qatar, including forced labor and withholding of wages. 

Additionally, the tournament faced criticism over Qatar’s poor record with LGBTQ+ rights and strict laws against homosexuality. Some activists and organizations called for a boycott of the tournament, arguing that it would legitimize and provide a global platform for the government to push its beliefs. 

Qatar was also under literal heat for their decision to hold the tournament during the summer when temperatures can reach well over 37.7 degrees Celsius. This raised concerns about player and fan safety, as well as the potential risk of matches being played in extreme conditions. 

Upsets from the get-go

It didn’t take long for the action to heat up right from the opening of the World Cup, with several group-stage losses that shocked the footballing world. Among these was Saudi Arabia’s 2-1 victory over eventual champions Argentina. Although the South American team faced an early setback, it didn’t stop them from topping Group C and advancing along with Poland.

Meanwhile, Groups E and F featured some of the biggest upsets in football history. In Group E, Japan kicked off their campaign by defeating heavy favorites Germany, 2-1, in their opening fixture. After falling to Costa Rica, Japan still managed to finish on top of Group E after pulling off another stunning 2-1 victory versus Spain, garnering a total of six points at the end of the group stage. With this, The Samurai Blue and La Furia Roja, who finished with four points, advanced to the knockouts—sending home the 2014 World Cup winner home much earlier than anybody expected.

Group F featured the nation that became the dark horse of the tournament: Morocco. The Atlas Lions managed to finish first in their group with seven points to advance alongside the two-time world champions  Croatia. However, the biggest surprise in the group was the lackluster performance of the heavily favored Belgium. The Red Devils fell to the eventual group winners as they drew Croatia with only one win against the World Cup newcomers, Canada, 1-0.

Other teams stood out for performing beyond expectations. Group B’s USA managed to finish second to England, while South Korea narrowly edged out two-time World Cup winner Uruguay to secure their spot in the next round, making their first appearance back in the knockouts since 2010.

Legacies at stake

The field was set for the most exhilarating phase of every World Cup: the knockout stages. The round of 16 featured a mix of beat-down wins and incredible surprises from underdogs against favorites in the tournament. Contenders like the Netherlands, Argentina, Brazil, England, France, and Portugal held their end of the bargain by winning their respective matchups and advancing to the next round. But underdogs such as Japan and Morocco made sure to let their presence known in the tournament with matches that extended into penalty shootouts. Unfortunately for Japan, it was the end of the road for their phenomenal run after losing out to Croatia. On the other hand, Morocco’s magical journey had just begun, as they bested Spain in what was an excellent defensive performance and a true show of class.

The quarterfinals showcased incredible matches from top to bottom—all of which were matches that either extended into penalties or were decided by a single goal. Argentina versus the Netherlands had a mix of pure magic from La Abiceleste and controversial officiating which created a perfect storm for a heated bout between the two nations. Underdogs Croatia and Morocco were able to pull incredibly difficult upsets to advance to the next stage, while the French diminished any hope of the trophy coming back home to England. Aside from the final itself, the action-packed quarterfinals were definitely the most exciting phase of the knockout stages in this world cup.

Contrary to that of the quarterfinals, both semifinal matches were more lopsided than expected once the game opened up. Argentina faced off against Croatia in a bout that once again, exhibited the strong potential of Julian Alvarez—one of the most exciting prospects in this generation of football. In the France-versus-Morocco face off, the French struck early and held on to their lead for the entirety of the game. Although the Moroccan dream had to come to a bitter end, but their incredible run as the first African team to reach the semifinals of a World Cup will never be forgotten.

This all culminated in a glaring World Cup Final:  Argentina versus France. All eyes were on the attacking prowess of Lionel Messi and the speed of Kylian Mbappé, anticipating the battle between a king ready to claim his throne as the greatest of all time against a young lion hungrier than ever.

The Argentines struck hard and early by scoring two goals in the first half through excellent team play and great individual effort coming from veteran Ángel Di María, putting them in a comfortable position for the rest of the game. The French were not able to penetrate the Argentinian defense for the majority of 75 minutes and Argentina’s victory was looking more and more likely. With around ten minutes to play, Mbappé burst into life and converted two quick goals to equalize for France to extend the game into extra time. 

Come the second half of extra time, Argentina were able to string up excellent build up play and Messi was able to get the ball across the goal line, sending Argentina ahead once more. But, the French wouldn’t succumb to defeat as Mbappé proved himself worthy of the tournament’s Golden Boot by converting another penalty to complete his hat trick and equalize for the French side. An incredible 123rd-minute save by Emiliano Martinez sealed the deal to deny the French victory and push the game to a penalty shootout. Messi and Mbappé both converted their spot kicks with confidence, but through the unshakeable confidence of Martinez, the Argentinians ultimately came out on top. 

In a game that turned out to be one of the greatest football matches in the history of the sport, Messi—one of the greatest to ever play the game—finally had his crowning moment as Argentina won their third World Cup nearly 30 years after Diego Maradona’s triumph in 1986. Despite the controversies surrounding the 2022 FIFA World Cup, it was without a question, an exemplary show of pure football and sportsmanship. 

Red Bernal

By Red Bernal

Diego Manzano

By Diego Manzano

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