The World Cup was full of stories. However, the biggest trend was unrest. Here’s why the tournament is even better.
Just over a week has passed since the World Cup in Qatar. There was already a lot of excitement and drama on the field, including an increasing number of goalless draws, some lopsided results and a massive amount of injury time attached to the end of matches.
While both of these trends are annoying for the game, another welcome trend is turmoil.
Saudi Arabia’s shock 2-1 win over Argentina last week set the tone. It has to be ranked among the three biggest upsets in tournament history. Even Lionel Messi fans had to smile at the sight of the Saudi players and their fans celebrating at the final whistle.
This was followed by Japan’s 2-1 victory over Germany, four-time World Cup winners. Then Costa Rica, who lost 7-0 to Spain in the opening match, went on to beat Japan 1-0. On Sunday, Belgium, competitors in the past few editions who finished third four years ago, lost to Tunisia 2-0.
World Cup 2022: Turmoil makes the tournament better
This resulted in a wide open tournament and made the group stage competitive throughout its three matches. As of Monday, only France, the reigning World Cup champions, have secured a place in the knockout round. Only two teams were officially eliminated, hosts Qatar and Canada.
It should be noted that only an elite club won the World Cup. Only eight countries (Brazil, Italy, Germany, Argentina, Uruguay, France and Spain) have lifted the trophy over its 92-year history.
That’s how hard it is to win this thing. It also shows how important tradition is in the sport.
However, we haven’t had so much upset since the 2002 Korea/Japan edition. It’s true that the final match saw Brazil defeat Germany, but Turkey finished third in that tournament. South Korea, the host nation, finished fourth, the best finish by an Asian nation at a World Cup.
Turmoil makes the tournament more fun and less predictable. It gives the neutrals, the vast majority of viewers, something to enjoy. It’s as if Cinderella’s cast is taking a deep ride during March Madness.
Michael Cox, writes the athlete On Sunday, the opposite argument. This is what he wrote:
When there is a very exciting group stage, with many favorites falling out, the knockout stage is frustrating. The 2002 World Cup is a good example. The tournament favourites, France and Argentina, crashed in the group stage. Portugal did as well, while Italy skipped their group but then lost in the second round. It was great entertainment. Only four of the eight pre-tournament favorites reached the quarter-finals – Brazil, England, Germany and Spain.
There have only been two knockout matches between these two teams: Brazil 2-1 England in the quarter-finals, and Brazil 2-0 Germany in the final. Significantly, those were also the only two of the seven knockout matches to feature more than one goal. The other five scores, all involving an outfielder, finished 1-0, 0-0, 1-0, 1-0, 1-0. Obviously, they weren’t running around, but they had the advantage as underdogs playing defensively. Notably, Senegal, the disqualified team who became the neutral favourites, played overwhelmingly defensively in their quarter-final loss to Turkey. Afterwards, two players from Senegal lamented their team’s lack of confidence. And you don’t want the quarter-finalists who don’t really believe.
Fear of defensive tactics is worth being aware of, but that’s not the whole story. The 2002 edition, as noted, featured two heavyweights in the final. What marred that tournament was bad refereeing, something that doesn’t happen very often anymore because of the VAR.
Qatar 2022 is proof that football’s entertainment and trouble can coexist. It made for an unexpected hero. It’s also a sign of how much the rest of the planet is catching up with the European and South American mightys.
This does not mean that we will see Senegal face Japan in the final. The knockout stage has a way of raising the strongest teams. After all, you have to go undefeated to lift the trophy. Cinderella teams can try, but teams like Brazil, Argentina and France always find a way to get to the big game.
Before then, just enjoy the disturbances from African and Asian countries. The group stage ends on Friday. Expect a few Goliaths to suffer defeats now and then.
It’s what makes sports fun. It’s also another reason why this extraordinary fall’s World Cup is a must-watch TV show for billions around the world.