2022 World Cup
- 21 Dec 2022
- Despite its unusual aspects, the 2022 World Cup has had everything that soccer fans hope to see.
Another World Cup has come and gone. This one in Qatar has been engaging from start to finish, with real surprises and noteworthy stories throughout the tournament. It’ll be remembered for its final and as a fairytale ending for one of the greatest players of all time. I don’t watch soccer or even play FIFA anymore, but I always follow the World Cup, the greatest sporting event on the planet bar none.
I like the new rules for rosters and substitutions. Teams can have 26 players instead 23, and they can make five substitutions per game instead of three. For extra time, the substitution limit increases to six. Replacements for concussion reasons don’t count against these limits, but opposing teams get extra substitutions, too. Another pragmatic change, which I hadn’t noticed, is only allowing changes during three specific periods during the game.
Logistics and technology have evolved a lot compared to the earliest World Cup tournaments that I remember. Qatar being a small country limits travel between games anyway, but groups having designated venues and regions is sensible. The VAR system isn’t perfect, but in general, it balances the need for correct (and game-altering) decisions with the want for minimal lulls. The on-field officials have final say, like they should.
The parity has been something to behold as well. Costa Rica has had the biggest loss of the tournament, but on their final day of the group stage, they still could’ve advanced with some help. This World Cup has the first-ever African semi-finalist, even if Morocco is closer to Europe than sub-Saharan Africa. Lionel Messi and Argentina’s campaign is the dominant story of Qatar 2022, of course, but it starts with Saudi Arabia’s monumental upset.
There haven’t been any embarrassments like Lampard’s non-goal and France’s mutiny in South Africa 2010, which is still the most memorable to me. My biggest disappointment is Harry Kane skying that penalty kick against France. I like him as a striker though, and I hope that fans in England have evolved beyond threatening effigies and taunting chants, although these days they’re more likely to hate on social media.
Other contenders must be disappointed as well. Despite their top ranking, Brazil has now lost a quarter-final in four of the five tournaments since 2002. (Their only quarter-final win since 2002 is overshadowed by the loss that had followed.) Belgium has been a popular dark-horse choice for the past handful of major tournaments, but unlike smaller Croatia, their Golden Generation has underachieved. Their window of opportunity has shut.
Portugal facing Argentina in the final would’ve been the ideal scenario for almost everyone. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi leading their respective teams to a showdown for the ultimate trophy would’ve been an amazing climax to this era—their era. Unfortunately, the persistent drama involving Ronaldo—whether real, fake, or somewhere in between—makes Portugal’s quarter-final loss and the denouement of his career a sad one.
I’ll refrain from joining the Hate Train surrounding Qatar 2022. Yes, the conditions for migrant workers in Qatar are terrible, the World Cup being awarded to Qatar is suspect, and the country’s laws for alcohol consumption, gender expression, and same-sex marriage are antithetical to the developed world’s views. I don’t disagree with the statements from the FIFA president or the Qatari chief executive, though.
People are always going to watch the World Cup in droves because—let’s be honest—sports fans are hypocrites. We aren’t going to boycott a major event, especially if there’s any promise of witnessing something incredible.
The final is the best among the World Cup tournaments that I’ve followed. It might be the best of all time, in terms of entertainment value. The final 10 minutes of regulation will inspire players and coaches for generations; it’s the type of late comeback that’s always imagined and seldom realized. Few teams have a superstar like Kylian Mbappé, though. His heroics will always overshadow his limited impact in the first 80 minutes.
Messi’s impact had been more consistent throughout the game. He’s indirectly responsible for France’s second goal, having lost possession at mid-field, but he’d also been involved in all three of Argentina’s goals. I haven’t actually watched the penalty shootout, so the sequence that I’ll remember most is him heading the ball over his team’s goal line to nullify a French threat, even temporarily, in the clutch.
Messi would’ve done better to head the ball over the sideline, but I like seeing him do proper defending, for a change. Chasing the ball in a part of the field where he rarely plays, to do a move that he rarely does, had shown his desire to win. I’ve always dreaded the inevitable lovefest with him winning the World Cup, but he deserves it. My preference had been France, and Pélé is the true GOAT, but I might actually play as Messi in Modern Warfare II.