REVIEW… The drama, history, high tension that made Qatar 2022 a different World Cup
After four years of anticipation, the biggest football tournament on the planet, Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) World Cup bursted into life on 20th November 2022, with 32 countries from different continents in the hunt for global glory in the Middle East desert country, Qatar.
Football superstars readied themselves for the battle of the ultimate prize, with some big names like the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner, Lionel Messi and his fierce rival, Cristiano Ronaldo going for their last dance, after several attempts that saw the former coming close to winning it in 2014.
France had earlier clinched the 2018 edition in Russia, following a gallant four against two win over Croatia in the final showdown, and from all indications -given the heftiness of the squad – it seemed the Les Bleus were ready to defend their throne; even though they were not the top favorites to lift the trophy.
Five times world champions, Brazil stood tall among other teams as the top contenders to clinch the prize. France, Argentina, England and Spain also appeared in the list of strong contenders. The talk of who would be crowned as the next champions of the world hovered on every sphere of football fans across the planet.
The wait was finally over when the global showpiece kicked off with the host Qatar and Ecuador. Though much vigor was expected from Qatar being the host team, it didn’t betray surprise when Ecuador beat them by two goals to zero. But, something happened in the next fixture, and that set the tone of the 2022 edition.
Saudi Arabia’s Dramatic Comeback
Saudi Arabia staged one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history after coming back in the second-half to stun Lionel Messi’s Argentina by two goals to one in the group C opener at the Lusail Stadium.
Having considered Argentina among the strong contenders, Saudi Arabia’s victory appeared to be the first big surprise of the tournament. Lionel Messi put Argentina on the driver’s spot with an effort from the six-yard barely before the fans could settle on their seats. But the Arabian country leveled through Saleh Al-Shehri strike just three minutes into the second half.
Saudi Arabia set up an almighty upset after Salem Al-Dawsari’s stunning solo goal put the green eagles in two against one lead, which resulted in ending Argentina’s 36-game unbeaten run. And the last time the two-time world champions, Argentina lost their opening World Cup group game was in 1990 against Cameroon.
“This hurts a lot. We were dreaming of starting the World Cup with a win,” Argentina striker Lautaro Martinez told SkySports after the match. “But it’s happened and now we have to train and think forward.”
The Host Became the First Team to Bow Out the Campaign
The host of the 2022 World Cup, Qatar became the first team to crash out of the tournament after a loss to Senegal and a 1-1 draw between Netherlands and Ecuador before the final match in Group A.
The Dutch and Ecuador earned four points, both teams having won their opening games. African side Senegal had three points following a 3-1 victory over rivals Qatar while heading to the last clash of the group campaign.
Qatar, who suffered two consecutive defeats in the Group, meant they could not qualify to the next round again, no matter what happened in their final match with Netherlands.
The Shock Exit of Favourites Brazil
Almost all fingers pointed at the South American giants, Brazil as the favorite team to win the trophy. But, Croatia shockingly eliminated the Samba Boys from the 2022 World Cup on penalties following a 1-1 draw in their quarter-final clash at the Education City Stadium.
The match ended 1-1 after a pulsating contest for 120 minutes, with Bruno Petkovic canceling out Neymar’s brilliant solo opener, which saw him equal Pelé’s record as highest goalscorer in the country’s history, with 77 goals.
Both goals came in the extra-time with Brazil scoring first through Neymar’s record-equalling goal before Bruno Petkovic’s unexpected equalizer with just two minutes remaining on the stoppage time.
Brazil’s dream of qualifying to the next round was put to paid after Rodrygo and Marquinhos both missed their penalties.
It was the third time Croatia had qualified for the last-four stage of the World Cup. And it was also the country’s second consecutive appearance at the semi-finals, the only side to do it since Brazil in 1998 and 2002, and Germany in 2006 and 2010 before winning the trophy in 2014.
The Fairytale of the Atlas Lions
The Atlas Lions, Morocco had made headlines in Qatar which stirred numerous dramas and upsets.
Morocco became the first second African team to top the group chat at the World Cup, after Nigeria in 1994. The Atlas Lions were also the first African team to reach the semi-final stage in the history of the tournament.
Meanwhile, Morocco didn’t get the headlines on a platter of gold, the African representatives did the impossible, having held their nerve to brush out three European giants -Belgium, Spain and Portugal.
The Fierce Drama of Argentina and Netherlands
Lionel Messi‘s Argentina had already started sensing a place in the semi-finals following a two-goal lead, with each goal coming from both halves, but Wout Weghorst scored two dramatic late goals -the second from a remarkably inventive free-kick in the 11th minute of stoppage time -to doom the dream at the moment and forced the game to extra-time.
Argentina took the lead before the break after Messi conjured up an immaculate pass to Nahuel Molina who wasted no time to convert it to a goal, and the team doubled their lead after Messi himself scored from the six-yard.
Argentina were cruising with a two-goal lead in the last ten minutes, but the table turned around, thanks to Wout Weghorst that forced the duel into extra time.
After the dramatic encounter that produced 17 yellow cards, Argentina went through to the semi-final following a four against three victory on penalties.
READ ALSO:CAF congratulates Morocco for finishing fourth at Qatar World Cup
The Biggest Drama: Lionel Messi vs Kylian Mbappe
The final encounter between Argentina and France was packed with many remarkable incidents, high tension, dramatic momentum among other things.
Argentina comfortably cemented a two-goal lead in the first half following a spot-kick effort from Lionel Messi and Di María’s stunner at the edge of the break. The South American side unleashed their dominance over the defending champions, France and it all seemed the contest was settled when the match resumed the second-half.
But two late goals from Kylian Mbappé – one from the penalty spot – dragged the contest to extra-time. With both sides’ feeling the effects of the scintillating final, Messi looked to have scored a winner in the 108th minute but again Mbappe stepped in to complete his hat-trick at the dead minute to force the contest to penalties.
However, Argentina broke the jinx of 36-year, defeating France 4-2 on penalties to become the champions of the world.
“It’s just crazy that it became a reality this way,” Messi told reporters. “I craved this so much. I knew God would bring this gift to me. I had the feeling that this [World Cup] was the one.”
Also, former England international, Alan Shearer described the final moment as staggering.
Speaking with the BBC,he said. “We’re breathless up here. It was just an unbelievable final. It was a pleasure to be here. I’ve never seen anything like it and I don’t think I’ll ever see anything like it again. It was staggering.”
Men of Record in Qatar
In the course of the tournament, players, teams and the campaign itself have set new milestone records, several hoodoos were broken and some history rewritten.
The French forward, Kylian Mbappe, even though did not win the trophy for the second time, he was instrumental in what gave the final match a real scintillation. He is the youngest (23) player who had the most goals in a single World Cup. He became the second player to score a hat-trick in the men’s World Cup, and also, the French striker had the record of most goals scored at a World Cup final match.
Lionel Messi on the other hand, aside from winning the global showpiece, the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner has broken and set a series of records in the 2022 World Cup.
The former Barcelona captain won the most man of the match awards in FIFA World Cup history. He set a record of being the only player to win two Golden Balls Best [player of the tournament] – 2014 and 2022. He was also the first player to score in Group Stage, the Round of 16, Quarter-finals, Semi-finals, and Final in a single edition of a World Cup. Messi is also the only player to provide assists at five different FIFA World Cups among other records.
Germany’s goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer, also broke a record during the 2022 World Cup. Germany crashed out of the tournament at the group stage but Neuer did well to set a new record before leaving – Most appearances (19) for a goalkeeper in World Cup history.
19-year-old teenager, Jamal Musiala was not let behind. The little boy set a record for himself as the player with the most dribbles in a World Cup match by a teenager (Germany vs Costa Rica).
Meanwhile, Miss Croatia Should not be Swept Aside
Despite the tournament being a star-studded one, former Miss Croatia, Ivana Knoll’s influence cannot be swept under the carpet.
With her exquisite, sexy outfits turning heads wherever she appears, the 30-year-old lady lightened up the World Cup for most fans in Qatar.
Amidst uncertainties of violating Qatari authorities decency laws, she was one of the stars whose fans couldn’t keep their eyes off throughout the tournament. With bum shots and splash of cleavage, the beauty queen was the sexiest fan of the biggest football tournament.
Ms Knoll is an ardent supporter of her nation’s team, Croatia who won the third place title of the tournament.
By Shereefdeen Ahmad
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