Friday, December 16, 2022

World Cup 2022

The 2022 World Cup started with one game on Day 1 (Nov 20), then three games on Day 2, then 11 days of four games each. Then 4 days of 2 games each. Then, after 17 straight days of football, things paused on Dec 7th which was the first day since Nov 20 without a World Cup game (oh the horror). The Quarter-Finals kicked off on Fri, Dec 9 and then we had 2 days of four incredible games.

Then another 2 day gap with two historic semi-finals on Tue, Dec 13th and Wed, Dec 14th.

After another 2 day gap, the third-place game will take place on Sat, Dec 17th between Morocco and Croatia. Then one final game on Dec 18th to end it all.

Argentina vs France

An epic historic final.

Both Argentina and France going for their third World Cup title. However, the big story is around Messi, the greatest player of all time, going for his first World Cup title.

Messi has been in the final before when Argentina narrowly lost 1-0 to Germany in the Maracanã stadium in Brazil at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. This is his 2nd attempt at the title in what will be his final World Cup game.

The Argentine fans have been in incredible voice throughout the tournament turning the stadiums in Qatar into an atmosphere reminiscent of a Boca Juniors or River Plate game. If there was any ticker tape, the atmosphere would have felt like that famous 1978 World Cup in Argentina where Mario Kempes helped seal Argentina’s first World Cup win. Then 8 years later in 1986, Diego Maradona sealed Argentina’s second title with an epic display of individual brilliance. Messi has channeled that brilliance many times for Barcelona in the past but until last few years, that brilliance was only seen in flashes for Argentina. That was due to a weak supporting cast around Messi. However, the Copa America title win in 2021 changed that sentiment and narrative. Messi put on a brilliant display scoring 4 goals and had 5 assists as Argentina beat Brazil 1-0 in the final giving Messi his first international trophy with Argentina. That Copa America win marked Messi's third Copa America final. He and Argentina suffered two previous penalty shoot-out final defeats in 2015, 2016 to Chile. Argentina's 2021 Copa win fueled belief that Messi could finally lead Argentina to the 2022 World Cup title.

Argentina’s 2022 World Cup started off with an improbable 2-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia, which snapped Argentina’s 36 game unbeaten streak. The game started with Messi putting Argentina in the lead through the penalty spot. Two quick goals by Saudi Arabia in the second threatened a mini crisis. Yet, Argentina and Messi grew in strength after that defeat and powered their way to the final.

Of course, the 2022 World Cup has had many shock stories. Japan's 2-1 wins over Spain and Germany were eye catching results. Morocco’s historic run marked the first time an African team made it to the semi-finals. Morocco’s wins also won them fans around the world and marked celebrations across the Arab world as well. Iran beat Wales 2-0 in a memorable game. South Korea narrowly edged out of their group with a late 2-1 win over Portugal, thus eliminating Uruguay on the final day on goal difference. Canada finally scored their first ever World Cup goal in brilliant fashion against Croatia but then lost 4-1. Tunisia scored a late 1-0 win over France in the final group game. Costa Rica were dreaming of an upset when they took a 2-1 lead over Germany and at one point, both Costa Rica and Japan were going through in a group which included Spain and Germany.

Croatia showed their resilience throughout the tournament. Croatia got to the semi-finals by only letting in 3 goals in 8.5 hours over football. They only scored 6 goals in that run and 4 of those came against Canada in one game. Without that 4-1 Canada win, Croatia scored only 2 goals and only let in 2 in 7 hours of football. Argentina and Messi finally dismantled Croatia 3-0 in the semis.

Morocco were equally resilient. They started their World Cup journey with a 0-0 draw with Croatia before a 2-0 win over Belgium turned things upside down in their group. They raced to a 2-0 lead over Canada but an own-goal just before half-time made it 2-1. Canada pushed Morocco to the edge in the second half and were millimetres from snatching a draw after Atiba Hutchinson’s header bounced off the goal. Until the semi-finals, only Canada had registered a goal against Morocco. However, Morocco were injured, bruised and exhausted going into their semi-final game and gave up a quick goal to France. Eventually, Morocco lost 2-0.

Now, Morocco and Croatia will meet again in the third place game which will surely feature goals and won’t end in 0-0. Morocco and Croatia’s runs also highlighted the tough group Canada had although Canada scored a goal against both teams. Canada should have beaten Belgium but lost 1-0. Belgium on the other hand were finally found out in this World Cup. On paper, Belgium has always had a solid team. But these games are not played on paper and for the longest time, Belgium managed to get some results which pushed them all the way to #2 in the World rankings.

Two more games remain in this year's World Cup, which will also be the last to feature 32 teams. The next tournament in 2026 (co-hosted by USA, Mexico and Canada) will feature a staggering 48 teams. Will the extra teams and games rob some of the drama witnessed in the 2022 World Cup? Possibly if there are no more 4 team groups which provided plenty of drama for the final group games when teams were battling the clock to secure their passage in the round of 16. But before 2026, one final historic weekend remains.