Qatar World Cup was a success

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On Sunday, Lionel Messi might join Diego Maradona in Argentine folklore by winning the World Cup for Argentina, or France could become the first nation to retain the trophy since 1962. Both options are fitting for the first World Cup in an Arab country. Whatever happens, a tournament mocked in the buildup and which began awkwardly offered an amazing rollercoaster ride that even cynics jumped on.

Millions of words were written criticising Qatar as host of the world’s second-largest sporting event, and the argument will continue after the last ball is kicked. The “beautiful game” brought delight for a month, according to FIFA president Gianni Infantino. Messi, Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, and Cristiano Ronaldo gave us stories. Saudi Arabia, Japan, South Korea, and Tunisia made news.

But many will remember Morocco’s shakeup of football’s hierarchy. The Atlas Lions’ fans painted the desert crimson and converted Doha’s souq into Marrakesh. Walid Regragui’s men beat European aristocrats Belgium, Spain, and Portugal to become the first African and Arab country in the last four. France set up a clash with Argentina in the beautiful Lusail Stadium.

Qatar World Cup was a success

Argentina’s 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia ignited a remarkable tournament. In five second-half minutes, Saleh Al-Shehri and Salem Al-Dawsari overturned a Messi penalty and sealed the biggest statistical upset in World Cup history. Infantino described the group phase as the best ever on the eve of the competition.

48 games generated 120 goals, two red cards, and enough crazy moments for three tournaments. A day after Saudi Arabia’s success, Japan came from behind to upset Germany, who went home early. Iran, amid anti-government protests at home, was beaten 6-2 by England, then overcame Wales in stoppage time.

Late goals and rushed rewrites for the world’s written media were a recurring motif in the last three nights of group play. Japan stunned Spain in a gut-wrenching Group E conclusion that seemed to send Costa Rica and Japan into the last 16 over Spain and Germany.

South Korea scored a stoppage-time goal to overcome Portugal and advance out of Group H, to Uruguay’s dismay. Mexico’s frenzied bid to score enough goals against Saudi Arabia to pip Poland in Group C failed. Every continent was represented in the last 16, but after a wild group phase, would it fizzle? Nah.

Australia gave Argentina a late fright, Mbappe sparkled for France against Poland, and England halted the Senegalese celebration in tent-like Al Bayt Stadium, one of seven new venues created for the competition. Brazil beat South Korea 4-1, while Portugal found a new hero in Goncalo Ramos, who scored a hat-trick in a 6-1 win over Switzerland. Morocco and Spain played to a 0-0 draw, then Morocco knocked out the 2010 champions on penalties.

Unpredictable Competition

Even though the competition was unpredictable, the typical suspects advanced. Neymar handed Brazil an extra-time advantage against Croatia, but Bruno Petkovic equalised in the 117th minute. Brazil lost on penalties. Argentina blew a 2-0 lead against the Netherlands, who ditched their customary scientific strategy for high balls.

Wout Weghorst’s brace, the second in stoppage time, quieted the blue and white hordes, but Messi and Co. won a penalty shootout. Ronaldo scored at five World Cups, but his last appearance, as a substitute, ended in tears as Portugal lost 1-0 to Morocco. Harry Kane’s miss cost England a 2-1 loss against France. Messi, channelling his inner-Maradona, spurred Argentina to beat Croatia, and few would begrudge the little number 10 a record-breaking 26th World Cup appearance.

Qatar World Cup was a success

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