As we come to the end of the first round of fixtures, there has been a lot to digest from the 16 matches that have taken so far. A potential bribe, a massive upset or two, and a very famous free agent playing in what will be his fifth and final World Cup.
Unfortunately, what has also been very clear to see is that the atmosphere in Qatar feels a lot more subdued. Many of the stadiums seem to be at less than capacity, and the political aspects of the World Cup have been at the forefront.
The most bizarre example of politics was arguably the press conference given by FIFA President Gianni Infantino, who blamed the West for hypocrisy. He even called himself a homosexual and a migrant worker, albeit quite hesitantly with the prior.
Here’s a short snippet of that incredible speech.
The decision by FIFA to ban the “One Love” armbands, and then threaten teams that decide to wear them nonetheless has resulted in further criticism of an organization that essentially refers to football as “everyone’s game”. German team showed their feelings by placing a hand over their mouths.
A separate political stance was demonstrated by the Iranians who chose to not sing their national anthem in protest of the Iranian government’s treatment of people concerning the hijab protests taking place back home.
Whatever happens, Qatar 2022 will undoubtedly be the most political World Cup in history from start to finish. However, it is the football we want to have a look at.
Here’s what we have learned so far.
Well, It’s “Possibly” How We Got To Host
A couple of days before kick-off, the world heard about a bribe that may or may not have been offered to a group of Ecuadorian players in the sum of around $7.4m, which was obviously denied by the Qataris. The South Americans were possibly offered something but they rejected it as they put the hosts away with a couple of goals from Enner Valencia – a player I know all too well as a Galatasaray supporter. The result was no shock as Qatar doesn’t have the team to be able to compete against nations that have been around the block. The hosts will likely end the tournament with no points unless Senegal or Holland accept a potential bribe that “isn’t made” to them.
This group is already looking like it is going to go down to a final game decider between Senegal and Ecuador, with the possibility of three teams locked on six points a piece.
It’s Coming Home?
Group B started with a massive statement by the Iranians as they refused to sing their national anthem. Unfortunately, that was the only act of defiance they showed during the game as England scored half-a-dozen goals. Iran did manage to score a couple of goals in reply which will concern England fans who were nervous about their chances before the tournament. If they can get another win against the Americans on match-day two, then surely the English will be telling the whole world that “it’s coming home.”
The World Cup seemed to be going pretty much as expected until day three came around. Everyone was eager to see Argentina start its campaign with a straightforward win against Saudi Arabia. Messi scored from the spot to put them ahead, and that’s as good as it got. The Argies just couldn’t stay onside. They got caught offside seven times in the half – one more than the total offsides they were called for in the entirety of the 2018 World Cup – which cost them two disallowed goals. Then the unthinkable happened as the Saudis scored two very well-taken goals to lead. What followed was a lot of heroic defending.
Unfortunately for Yasser Alshahrani, his heroism ended his tournament. The Saudi defender ended up with a broken jaw and internal bleeding thanks to the knee of his goalkeeper. Alsharani has returned to Saudi Arabia to undergo surgery and enjoy his food via a straw for a while.
Luckily for Argentina, the other game in the group finished in a goalless draw. Robert Lewandowski missed a penalty which means he is still yet to score a World Cup goal for his country.
With fans still trying to come to terms with what had happened to Argentina, Japan beat Germany thanks to a magnificent second-half performance. The German national team is now under immense pressure to win their second game, which will be against a Spain team that scored seven past Costa Rica.
Germany and Argentina are facing elimination with a defeat in their second game. The fans should be ready to say goodbye to Germany as they face Spain. A German defeat, coupled with a point or three for Japan, will put the most successful European nation in history on a plane back to more familiar lands.
Argentina will likely put right the wrongs in the first game and still make it through to the knockout rounds.
He may be the only player at the World Cup without a club, but that hasn’t prevented Cristiano Ronaldo from adding another record to his already-packed books. The Portuguese captain has become the only player in history to score at five World Cups, passing Miroslav Klose, Pele and Uwe Seeler, and Lionel Messi who had matched the record with his penalty against Saudi Arabia.
CR7 needs two more goals to become Portugal’s all-time top scorer at the tournament. Portuguese legend Eusebio sits atop that list with nine goals. Unfortunately for Ronaldo, he is unlikely to reach Miroslav Klose’s record 16 goals.
What’s With All the Added Time?
I am sure you’ve noticed the increased amount of time being added on at the end of a half of football at the World Cup. Football fans are seeing more than double the standard three or four minutes we have become accustomed to. During the game between England and Iran, a total of 27m 04s was added to the end of the two halves of football.
Chairman of Fifa’s referees’ committee Pierluigi Collina confirmed last week that fourth officials had been instructed to keep track of time lost during the game during the tournament in Qatar.
“In Russia, we tried to be more accurate in compensating for time lost during games and that’s why you saw six, seven, or even eight minutes added on,” he told reporters at a pre-tournament briefing.
“Think about it: if you have three goals in a half, you’ll probably lose four or five minutes in total to celebrations and the restart.”
So, when you consider the injuries suffered by the Iranian goalkeeper and defender, as well as the number of goals scored and substitutions, it kind of becomes more clear.
However, what’s more noticeable is that the players aren’t trying to waste time as much now knowing that the time will be added on very generously by the fourth official.
Much Better from the Referees
The quality of refereeing seems to have been much better at the tournament so far.
The referees have been more willing to play the game rather than stop the action for a player being on the floor.
I have noticed players who have ended up on the floor with what looks like a horrific injury manage to get themselves running at a full gallop within seconds.
There have been some instances when the game was stopped too late because of this willingness to let the game flow which has been criticized, but all in all, the standard of refereeing has been excellent…apart from one poor showing.
Janny Sikazwe and his team directly affected the game with their poor officiating. The Canadians should have had three penalties on the night but ended up with just one. That spot-kick was saved by Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
The two other penalties that weren’t given were after the officiating team called offside despite the ball being kicked, very clearly for all to see, by the Belgians, and then Sikazwe wasn’t asked to check (or decided not to check) VAR to see the Canadian player was clearly fouled.
Every tournament has one referee that makes such game-changing errors that they get suspended from the tournament. Well, ladies and gents, I give you that referee. Let’s have a round of applause for Janny Sikazwe!
Final Time for so Many
Qatar is going to be the end of an era for so many of the superstars that we have had the pleasure of watching over the last decade-and-a-half. Both CR7 and Lionel Messi have said that this will be their last World Cup. Football dreamers are hoping to see the two legends meet in the final, which is unlikely to happen.
Depending on the final standings of their respective groups, the earliest they can meet is in the semi-finals, which would also be an amazing spectacle.
Other players that are playing in their final World Cups are Luka Modric, Luis Suarez, Thiago Silva, and Thomas Muller. Manuel Neuer has also hinted at Qatar being his last hurrah, while Karim Benzema wasn’t even able to make it to the field after suffering an injury in training.
As we enter the second group games, many questions will get answered. Will Argentina bounce back? Is Saudi Arabia going to make the knockouts? Is Germany going to fall at the first hurdle once again for the second consecutive time? How many more goalless draws are we going to have?
In 2018, we only had one game without a goal, and the teams that contested that dull affair, Denmark and France, are due to play in the second round of fixtures.
Hopefully, many of the teams will open up a little more and go for the kill. This is the World Cup, where you don’t get a chance to make up the deficit if you don’t hit the ground running.
Just ask the Germans.