From Messi’s twilight triumph to bountiful showings of hospitality by the Qatari people, there was plenty to smile about during this year’s World Cup.
As the curtain came down on the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, most fans of the sport will immediately look forward to enjoying the return of the domestic leagues, which the tournament’s December placement interrupted.
But this World Cup brought a ton of positivity to a sporting event that had been scrutinized for years leading up to kick off.
It’s difficult to say it was somehow uniquely positive, since in sport there must always be a loser, but it’s hard to ignore that, all politics aside, there were moments of progress, of real-life script writing, and of humanity that make such a statement a convincing argument.
1: Messi Emerges from Maradona’s Shadow
For the man who most people are happy enough to designate as the greatest to ever play the sport, the 2022 World Cup was a crowning achievement on the most legendary of careers.
As with all sportsmen, it seemed the 35-year-old Lionel Messi would finish his career with a knock on him: that he never won a major trophy with Argentina. The legendary Argentine forward Diego Maradona took his nation to World Cup glory in 1986, and has carried a greater consideration in some ways to Messi.
There is now no easy argument to make that Messi isn’t the greatest of all time, not least because he didn’t merely play in a team that won the World Cup, he shined from the 1st match to the last, becoming the first player to score in a group state match, round of 16, quarter final, semi-final, and final. He netted his penalty in both shootouts Argentina played in, and scored two goals in the thrilling 3-3 final against France. He scored 8 goals this tournament.
It was telling that when Gonzalo Montiel stroked home the penalty which won Argentina the cup, the left back celebrated alone with the goalkeeper; every other player had jumped atop Lionel Messi.
2: The Atlas Lions Become African Heroes
For the first time in history, an African team made it to the semi-finals of the World Cup. Lead forward by standout performances from fullback Aschraf Hakimi, goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, and midfielder Sofyan Amrabat.
Finishing first in a group that contained previous World Cup finalists Croatia, and highly-ranked Belgium, beating the latter 2-0, Morocco then eliminated Spain on penalties in the knockout round of 16 before beating Christiano Ronaldo and Portugal 1-0 to reach the semi-finals.
They would be defeated by a 2-0 scoreline against France. Morocco had more foreign-born players in their squad than any other team, with 14 of the 25 choosing to play for Morocco rather than various other nations such as France, Germany, or Spain.
“Pinch me, I’m dreaming,” Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou said. “Morocco is ready to face anyone in the world. We have changed the mentality of the generation coming after us. They’ll know Moroccan players can create miracles.”
3: The Rise of the World Game
Remaining on the topic of Africa, it was the most successful tournament for the continent: with 5 African teams all winning at least one group stage match, two emerging from the groups into the knockout rounds—a joint record—and a team making it to the semi-finals for the first time ever.
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