All winter, there has been one topic at the forefront of people’s minds: The FIFA World Cup. Whether or not you’re a soccer fan, the frenzy can be noticed everywhere.
This year’s World Cup was an eventful one throughout, the matches leading up like dominoes to an explosive final. Before the groups were even announced, controversy surrounded FIFA’s decision to host it in Qatar, a place infamous for its various human rights abuses and continued oppression of the LGBTQ community. In addition to this, history was made, as this was the first year that the World Cup was held during the winter.
As the games began to take place, excitement abounded. The group stage commenced with a bang: Germany was, shockingly, knocked out of the group stage. Qatar became the first host country to get eliminated after its first two games (knocked out by Senegal 3-1). “Underdog” countries continuously played beyond anyone’s expectations. Saudi Arabia beat Argentina 2-1, Morocco beat Belgium 2-0, and Cameroon beat Brazil 1-0 (Vincent Aboubakar took a red card one minute after scoring the winning goal, but they won).
The World Cup frenzy was exceptionally strong this year, as the United States played quite well in the group stages. They tied England 0-0 (with 10 shots), and beat Iran 1-0 to advance to the knockout stages. Unfortunately, the US played less than spectacularly in the Round of 16, losing by an embarrassing 3-1 to the Netherlands. Each of the 3 goals was a repeat of the previous: The defense made a mistake, allowing Memphis, Blind, and Dumfries each to score. Haggi Wright brought it back in the 76th minute, allowing Americans a glimpse of hope before Dumfries took it to the point of no return in the ‘81.
Still, excitement over the World Cup can be found everywhere. During a family trip to Dubai, I was able to experience the World Cup’s effect tenfold. People would watch the games on the plane, all the while flight attendants would ask about the score. The streets were filled with huge screens displaying the day’s matches. At night, we would go to bed hearing the roar of the crowds at Fan Zones (areas where fans could gather and watch matches on a big screen, mimicking the feeling of watching the game live).
Here at Warde, the World Cup mania has struck as well. Teachers put matches on after class and hopeful students wear jerseys of the teams they want to win.
As the Round of ‘16 continued, people rallied behind their favorite teams and countries. There wasn’t anything very unexpected about the Round of ‘16: Argentina beat Australia 2-1, France beat Poland 3-1 (where Olivier Giroud broke the record for most goals by a French player), England beat Senegal 3-0, and Croatia beat Japan in penalties 3-1. Brazil beat South Korea a brutal 4-1, and Portugal hit Switzerland with an even more painful 6-1. The real surprise, however, was Morocco. The African country beat Spain on penalties a shocking 3-0, advancing to the quarter-finals (hats off to Canadian-born Moroccan goalie Yassine Bounou for the excellent keeping).
This year’s quarterfinals were shockingly filled with penalty shootouts. As the stakes got higher, the games got even more tense. Croatia beat Brazil on penalties 4-2. Earlier, Brazil fans had been feeling confident when Neymar scored a goal in the 105+1’ minute, but this confidence soon chipped away further when Bruno Petkovic scored for Croatia 9 minutes later in the 117’. When it came time for penalties, Brazil’s playing turned subpar. While Croatian goalie Dominik Livakovic is fantastic in his position, Brazil showed none of their usual skill. The deciding penalty for Brazil, kicked by Rodrygo, bounced off the bar. This meant that, regardless of whether or not there was a goalie in the net, the shot would have missed.
This sentiment was echoed in the England-France game on December 10th. While the match did not go to penalties (France beat England 2-1), England had two penalties and the opportunity to draw with France. Harry Kane, a clinical penalty taker with an 84% penalty conversion rate, took both. He scored the first but wildly missed his second, sending the ball flying over the crossbar. Similar to Rodrygo’s penalty, Kane would have missed the shot regardless of the goalie. It was just the 11th penalty Kane has missed in a 13-year career, but what a costly one!
In keeping with the penalty theme, Argentina beat the Netherlands 4-3 through penalties in what was a very close match. In the beginning, Argentina appeared to dominate. Nahuel Molina scored for Argentina in the 35’ minute, and Messi scored a penalty in the 73’. It seemed hopeless for the Dutch, but Wout Weghorst brought them back with 2 goals; one in the 83’ and one in the 111’. Argentina then beat them out for good in penalties, but, needless to say, it was an excellent and entertaining match to watch, regardless of who you might have been supporting.
In yet another astonishing turn of events, Morocco beat Portugal 1-0, making history as the first-ever African country to advance to the semi-finals of the World Cup. However, as Moroccans celebrated, soccer fans everywhere were hit with a special type of melancholy; it was likely the last World Cup game world-renowned player Cristiano Ronaldo would ever play. Despite spending the majority of the game on the bench (for the second game in a row), the legend was very emotional following the end of the game.
Contrary to this, Ronaldo’s fellow soccer legend, Lionel Messi, seemed jubilant after a 3-0 win in the semi-final game against Croatia. He had reason to be: He scored the first goal, a penalty in the 34th minute. His teammate, Julian Alvarez, continued the streak with goals in the 39th and 69th minutes. When the whistle blew after 6 minutes of stoppage time, Argentina was through to its sixth World Cup final, and Messi had the opportunity to win his first and last World Cup.
Similarly, France seemed joyful as they looked upon a potential repeat of their 2018 World Cup win. They won against Morocco with a comfortable 2-0 in the semi-final game. France started and ended strong, with Theo Hernandez scoring a goal in the 5th minute and Randal Kuolo Muani scoring in the 79th minute.
The highly anticipated Argentina-France final began on Sunday, December 18th, with viewers watching from around the world with bated breath. At first, the game seemed to be an open-and-shut case for Argentina; Messi scored a penalty in the 23rd minute, and Angel Di Maria followed with another goal in the 36’ minute. At halftime, many people were losing interest. Argentina had a 2-0 lead and seemed to have no issues retaining it. The French team seemed hopeless. However, in the last few minutes of the last half (80’), France won a penalty. Kylian Mbappe took it and, in typical Mbappe style, scored it. The goal seemed to reawaken him and the rest of the French team-a little over one minute later, in true Mbappe style, he scored yet again, and the game was tied; 2-2. The game went to extra time, and Messi showed his true skill with a goal in the 108’. Argentina seemed to have it in the bag, but Mbappe came back with a penalty in the 118’.
France had some close calls, desperately doing everything to keep from going to penalties, as they were notoriously bad-the French goalie, Hugo Lloris, had gone on record in saying that he wasn’t very good at penalties. Unfortunately, it did in fact go to penalties, where Lloris was unable to save a single penalty. Argentina won the PKs an incredible 4-2, with Montiel scoring the winning goal. That was it. Argentina had won the world cup.
Personally, I had been rooting for France (since no one else seemed to), but I ended up being quite happy with how it ended. It was the epitome of soccer, and the explosive ending a legend like Messi deserved. As I watched him lift the trophy, I knew that it was the perfect ending to his illustrious career, and an amazing finish to a World Cup for the history books.
This year’s World Cup was many things: Dynamic, dramatic, and explosive. No matter how you look at it, it was a World Cup that would never be forgotten.