After 29 days of football, it is finally over. In an outstanding setting, an unparalleled edition of the FIFA World Cup is now done and dusted, with Argentina creating history by sealing their third-ever win in the competition, in a fabulous final against France, which will definitely go down in history as one of the best, if not the most exciting ever.
We had 32 teams, superb matches, and historic events in the competition, so let’s unpack some of them here, especially the ones that took place on Sunday in the Lusail Iconic Stadium, a golden setting for a golden final, which Argentina took by the skin of their teeth.
Finally, a trophy for Messi
It was the FIFA World Cup edition where Lionel Messi finally got the big prize, the big trophy, after an outstanding tournament, where he scored seven goals and assisted four goals. It was always going to be a special edition of the competition for Argentina’s Number 10 and he delivered in spades, scoring in each and every knockout match, playing with a clear focus and a clear mindset on delivering the big prize for his country.
Messi was key for Argentina against Australia, the Netherlands, Croatia and France, but remember his contribution against Mexico and Poland in the group phase, where he also scored goals, being integrant to his team’s success. Once criticised, Argentina bit back in emphatic fashion and secured their third trophy in history, after the ones clinched in 1978 and 1986.
Messi was named the “Golden Ball” of the tournament and became the player with the most minutes, most games, most dribbles, most chances created and the one who was named the “Man of the Match” the most times in the history of the FIFA World Cup, a testament of his greatness and his performances. Lifting that trophy was just the cherry on the cake.
France lost but has its sights set on the future
Where now for France? They were so close and yet so far from the trophy, failing in their challenge to secure it for the second time in a row, a feature last achieved by Brazil in 1958 and 1962. However, they were without key players in N’Golo Kante, Paul Pogba and Karim Benzema, but they still thrived where any other team would fail to bring the goods to the table.
Boasting a hungry Kylian Mbappe in their squad for at least two editions of the FIFA World Cup, France is poised to come back and have another go at it. In only two editions of the competition, Mbappe has scored 12 goals and needs only five goals to become the all-time top scorer of the competition. He also was the first player ever to scored a hat-trick in a final of the FIFA World Cup.
Qatar 2022 has underlined once again how good France are and bar a loss against Argentina in the final, they would have delivered a historic back-to-back win. But with a healthy squad, some tweaks here and there and – probably – a new coach on the bench, things will be looking excellent for them, despite losing their second final at the FIFA World Cup from four matches.
A new record for goals scored
Qatar 2022 has also been the tournament with the largest number of goals scored in a FIFA World Cup edition in history, 172, breaking the previous record set at France 1998 and Brazil 2014 by a single goal. It took some heavy lifting in the final, but Kylian Mbappe’s converted penalty meant that this tournament has written history even in this regard, with an outstanding contribution to the development of football.
Sure, records are meant to be broken and this record will surely fall in 2026, when there will be 48 teams, but we had some pretty special games, starting with Spain’s 7-0 win over Costa Rica, to the knockout round, where Argentina delivered some excellent performances in the quarter-final against the Netherlands or the semi-final against Croatia, with seven goals combined in those matches.
It was also the first final where a player, Kylian Mbappe, scored a hat-trick, while also being the final with six goals scored, like in 2018, 1966 or 1938 only one goal shy of the record set in 1958 by Brazil and Sweden, when the two sides combined for seven goals.
How did Argentina really win this?
This looked to have been written in the stars, but Argentina’s roster was an interesting band of outcasts and misfits, starting with Emiliano Martinez, the tournament’s Golden Glove, going through Nicolas Otamendi, who had to change four buses to get to training in his youth, or Rodrigo de Paul, who had a strange path to his career before blossoming and becoming the player he now is.
Argentina, a country that lives and breathes football, was also only the second team in history to lose their first match and go on and win the trophy, in a remarkable comeback, after they lost the game against Saudi Arabia, 1-2, in the group phase, and everybody wrote them off.
Add an inexperienced coach in Lionel Scaloni, who was an assistant to Jorge Sampaoli in 2018 and took over after Sampaoli was fired after a 3-4 loss to France in the Round of 16 at the previous World Cup edition, it does not get harder than this. Yet Scaloni – whose team is dubbed “La Scaloneta” now – rallied the troops, made everyone fit in, changed the tactics and had a penchant for understanding the strengths of the opponents and delivered an outstanding result, that will never be forgotten in Argentina.
World Cup withdrawal?
How can we cure our FIFA World Cup withdrawal? Yes, it will be hard. Qatar delivered an outstanding edition of the competition, the best-ever, as it was dubbed by many, a historic achievement for the Middle Eastern country. From the luxurious venues, to the excellent organisation, the tournament will be hardly ever forgotten.
Add some surprises, like Morocco becoming the first-ever African team to reach the semi-finals of the competition, or some excellent games, like this final, one of the best in history, it was crystal clear that this tournament had its purpose and made an excellent mark.
It will surely be remembered as one to revisit after things have cooled down, but we had stars shining, underdogs delivering excellent performances, favourites dropping like flies in the most unexpected of circumstances… We had it all.