Argentina Wins it All - 2022 Qatar Men's World Cup Semifinals and Final Round Recap
With yesterday’s result, the 2022 Qatar Men’s World Cup has wrapped up after a month of exciting football. Due to unforeseen circumstances and the small number of matches played, I will be recapping the semifinals and the final round together in this piece. Without further ado, let us begin.
Tuesday, 13th December
After the quarterfinals wrapped up, the 11th and 12th of December were reserved as rest days for the four squads that moved on to the semifinals. On the 13th, the first of two semifinal matches began when Argentina faced off against Croatia, the reigning runners-up of the 2018 Russia Men’s World Cup at Lusail Stadium. On paper, this matchup was even, but events quickly changed in favor of Argentina. Despite having less than 40% of possession time, Argentina took advantage of their chances, with Croatia playing flat football. In the 34th minute, Lionel Messi struck first for Argentina off a penalty. Five minutes later in the 39th, Julian Alvarez made it 2-0 in favor of Argentina before he once again scored and put in the dagger for Croatia’s championship hopes with a goal in the 69th minute, bringing the final score to 3-0, with Argentina taking their place in the finals.
Wednesday, 14th December
In the second semifinal match, France and Morocco squared off with the reigning champs seeking to end the miracle run of Morocco. The match took place at Al Bayt Stadium, its final match of the World Cup in prime time, with much anticipation over what could be a great match. To start, France immediately made an impact as Theo Hernandez put one in the net only five minutes in to give his nation the lead. From here, the game was very even as both sides had ample opportunities to score, but ultimately France would be the one to break in again, scoring in the 79th minute off a Randal Kolo Muani goal to punch their ticket to the final with a 2-0 win.
Saturday, 17th December
Following the semifinals, the 15th and 16th of December were once again rest days as the four squads geared up for the final round. On Saturday in an early schedule, 8 am MST, Croatia and Morocco squared off to determine who would take third place in this year’s World Cup at Khalifa International Stadium. The match was very exciting to start, as Croatia’s Josko Gvardiol broke the tie in the seventh minute before Morocco’s Achraf Dari responded with the equalizer two minutes later. Croatia’s Mislav Orsic scored in the 42nd minute to make it 2-1 in favor of Croatia, with his goal ultimately being the last of the match as both squads played even ball for the remainder of the game. Holding onto the result, Croatia secured their position as the third-place finishing squad of the 2022 World Cup, with Morocco taking fourth, the highest any African nation has ever placed in World Cup history. While a bit disappointing a finish, the run was still magnificent.
Sunday, 18th December
Once again at 8 am MST, the final took place between Argentina and France at Lusail Stadium. Argentina came in seeking their third-ever title and their first one since the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. France meanwhile sought to gain their third title and be the second ever back-to-back champions since Brazil did it in 1958 (Sweden) and 1962 (Chile). Initially, it seemed as if Argentina would run away with the game, as an Angel Di Maria flop in the box gave way to a Lionel Messi penalty in the 23rd minute to give the Argentine squad the lead. Shortly afterward, Di Maria would score in the 36th minute, making it 2-0 in what was seeming to become a blowout as the French squad played flat throughout. It wasn’t until the 80th minute that France got some life as Kylian Mbappe converted a penalty before scoring again in the next minute to tie the game up at two apiece. Neither side would be able to score again in regulation, so it went to extra time. In the 108th minute, Messi picked up his second goal of the match to make it 3-2, but his squad wouldn’t hold the lead. In the 118th minute, Argentina conceded yet another penalty that Mbappe expertly converted, picking up the hat trick and tying the game with two minutes left. With that goal, penalties became inevitable. Argentina would convert four of theirs as Hugo Lloris tried too hard to anticipate where shots were going, guessing incorrectly on three of the converted penalties. France would only be able to score two of theirs, with Emiliano Martinez making a save and one penalty missing badly as the French seemed unwilling to shoot to the right side of the net. In the end, the 4-2 margin in penalties gave Argentina the win and their first title in 36 years, with Andres Cantor (Telemundo’s main commentator) in tears at the sight, a sentiment and emotion shared by Argentinians around the world.
When it comes to the awards, it is no surprise that they were dominated by Argentinian players. Lionel Messi won the Golden Ball, signaling him as the player of the tournament, a fitting award alongside the World Cup title he had sought as the crowning achievement of his career. France’s Kylian Mbappe won the Golden Boot, being the top scorer with eight goals and two assists over the course of 597 minutes played, an award single-handedly won with his final hat trick. Argentina’s Emiliano Martinez won the Golden Glove, being the top goalkeeper of the tournament. Enzo Fernandez, also of Argentina, won the Young Player Award, being the best player who is at most 21 years old during the tournament’s run. Finally, England won the Fair Play Trophy, which is given to the squad that receives the least bookings (yellow and red cards) during the World Cup past the group stage.
With the result yesterday, the Men’s World Cup is officially over. A month of football has come to an end and soon the normal cycle of association football around the world will resume. While it was a World Cup with many controversies and the rightful criticisms thrown its way, the matches themselves proved to be the grand results we have come to expect from a World Cup. It is unlikely that these runs will be forgotten, even if we’d like to ignore the location they took place. Every stadium except for Khalifa International will be drastically reduced in size due to the relatively lacking football culture and competition in Qatar. Stadium 974 will be dismantled and shipped elsewhere, either to Africa or maybe Uruguay depending on their combined bid with Argentina, Chile, and Paraguay for the 2030 Men’s World Cup, which would be the centennial anniversary of the first ever one in 1930 in Uruguay. Either way, we have another four years to wait before the 2026 Men’s World Cup, which will take place in Canada, the United States, and Mexico, with the US hosting a majority of the matches in the first-ever 48-team formatted tournament. Next year will also be the Women’s World Cup, which will take place in Australia and New Zealand over the summer. One way or another, I’ll be watching both.