The 2022 FIFA World Cup has been full of incredible moments. Everything from major upsets to inspiring acts from fans have been witnessed at the mega tournament held in Qatar right from the beginning of the tournament.
Contested by 32 teams from around the world, it has once again established the fact that it is the most dominant sporting event on earth after the Olympics. The 2022 edition is the most expensive in the history of football, with Qatar reportedly spending over USD 220 billion in the last 12 years on infrastructure and related works for hosting the FIFA World Cup.
Fans from around the world descended in the Gulf country to witness their favourite teams and footballers — many of whom are among the world’s richest sportspersons — battle it out for the sport’s ultimate glory.
And, of course, like any other FIFA World Cup, Qatar too had fans singing and dancing on the streets and in the stadiums. It was clearly a celebration of the beautiful game in a country which earned praise for its efficient handling of both crowds and the tournament.
Additionally, like all other previous editions, the 2022 FIFA World Cup had shocks and surprises galore.
And, among the many noteworthy facts about this tournament was that no team in the eight groups could win all three of its matches. Qatar ended up being the first host nation to lose all of its three group stage matches. It is also the first World Cup where teams from all six populated continents managed to enter the knockout rounds.
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Saudi Arabia beats Argentina
The first major upset of the 2022 FIFA World Cup was on 22 November, the third day of the tournament, at Lusail Iconic Stadium in Lusail.
Saudi Arabia, ranked 51st in FIFA’s men’s rankings, defeated Argentina, world no.3 and one of the favourites at the tournament, 2-1.
Saudi Arabia would have received tremendous praise had they managed a draw against a side led by Lionel Messi — unarguably one of the greatest footballers in history. In fact, Messi scored from a penalty in the 10th minute, making it appear almost certain that the Saudi Arabians were going to lose badly.
But by the end of the match, every member of the inspired Saudi side had become icons in the Arab world. Two of their players — striker Saleh Al-Shehri and winger Salem Al-Dawsari — scored within five minutes of each other in the second half to put the Saudis in the lead.
Their charismatic manager, Frenchman Hervé Renard, did not let his boys go off this advantage throughout the rest of the game.
His strategy was evident from the statistics that emerged following the match. The Saudis could take only two shots at the target as against the six that the Argentines took. Messi’s side had possession of the ball 70 percent of the match’s duration and gained nine corners against just two for the Saudis. And yet Argentina lost. A notable factor here — Saudi Arabia managed to force Argentina to commit 10 offsides. The latter had three goals ruled out in a span of 13 minutes all because of offsides.
For millions of Saudi fans, Messi became a subject of memes. “Where is Messi?” were the words that many Saudi fans were seen sporting on banners and chanting at cameras during their victory celebrations on the streets.
The match was so historic that FIFA included it in its list of the greatest FIFA World Cup upsets.
Japan beats Germany
Japan has never been a favourite at the World Cup tournaments. But the Blue Samurai, as they are famously known, do give their all to the beautiful game. No matter the opponent, their never-give-up attitude has always been incredible.
Japan first displayed their grit in their first match at the 2022 FIFA World Cup on 23 November against Germany — the winner of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Playing at Khalifa International Stadium in Al Rayyan, the Japanese were up against what appeared like a formidable German side which included the likes of Manuel Neuer, Thomas Müller, Jamal Musiala, Mario Götze and İlkay Gündoğan. And just like the Saudi Arabia vs Argentina match, the Japanese ended up conceding a penalty which put them behind the Germans 0-1 in the 33rd minute of the match.
But the tenacious Japanese side persisted. Two of their players, midfielder Ritsu Dōan and forward Takuma Asano, came in as substitutes in the second half and quickly changed the course of the game, and the rest is history.
Dōan capitalised on a rebound to strike into the German net in the 75th minute. Asano, on the other hand, outsmarted the German defence on the right side to smash the ball past a hapless Neuer in the 83rd minute. Germany, whose match against Japan was also its first in the tournament, could never regain from the shock.
Look at what it means 😢
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) November 27, 2022
Understandably, there were scenes of jubilation across Japan and people were seen dancing on busy roads in Tokyo. This upset was indeed historic given the fact that Germany had never lost a World Cup game after gaining a half-time lead since 1978. It was also the first time since 1994 when Germany lost a World Cup match after gaining the lead at either half.
Japan beats Spain
The Japanese rewrote history at the 2022 FIFA World Cup by conquering not one but two FIFA World Cup champions in their group. The one vanquished this time was world no.7 Spain — the winner of the 2010 tournament.
Japan arrived at the match on 1 December after a defeat at the hands of Costa Rica at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan. Spain had endured a draw in its match against Germany and defeated Costa Rica 7-0. Given Spain’s overall performance, it was in a much more advantageous position than Japan.
While the Japanese met Spain, the Germans had a do-or-die situation with Costa Rica. Additionally, it was also necessary for the Germans to qualify for the knockout stage that Japan either lost to Spain or at least ended up in a draw.
Japan went 0-1 behind Spain when Álvaro Morata scored a goal in the 11th minute. But the famous grit that the Japanese displayed throughout the tournament was not subdued. Just after half-time, Ritsu Dōan, the one who turned the tide against Germany, came in as a substitute and quickly scored the equaliser in the 48th minute. Three minutes later, midfielder Ao Tanaka gave Japan the lead — a goal that effectively knocked Germany out of contention.
As the final whistle rang, Japan became the only team in Group E to enter the Round 16 of the tournament after winning two matches. Understandably, fans back home in Japan held wild celebrations on the streets. The famous win gave many the confidence that Japan could even lift the World Cup this time.
Elsewhere, the Germans fought valiantly to defeat Costa Rica 4-2. But that was not sufficient to take them through and they made their second successive exit from the group stage of a FIFA World Cup.
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The goal-line controversy
The second goal by Japan in their group match against Spain was scored by Ao Tanaka, who deftly tapped the ball with his right knee from behind Spanish goalkeeper Unai Simón into the net.
That goal resulted in the biggest controversy of the 2022 FIFA World Cup at the time. This was over how the ball was passed to Tanaka by his team-mate, winger Kaoru Mitoma. The on-field referee disallowed the goal, believing that the ball had already passed the goal-line behind the Spanish net when Mitoma cut it back.
But video assistant referee (VAR), Mexico’s Fernando Guerrero, overturned the decision after a long look at the video. It was ruled that the ball’s curvature had not completely crossed the line. Rules dictate that for the ball to be declared out of play, its entire curvature needs to be completely behind the goal-line and not just the ball making contact with the grass behind it.
Unlike the Premier League, FIFA doesn’t share video or photographic evidence for VAR decisions to the media. This led to debates in television studios over the VAR as well as FIFA’s system.
“From the very first day of this tournament we haven’t been able to communicate on big decisions really clearly to fans at home and even to us, how these decisions are being overturned,” footballer-turned-pundit Gary Neville said on ITV Sport.
“There was a goal disallowed and VAR has seen something that we’ve not seen in this studio or around the world. We can’t get an angle of what the VAR officials have seen,” Neville added.
Graeme Souness, another footballer-turned-pundit, added on the same network, “Every television studio, every pundit, everyone who’s got an interest in this World Cup will be wanting to see the picture.”
On 2 December, FIFA officially released video evidence in support of the VAR decision.
“The video match officials used the goal line camera images to check if the ball was still partially on the line or not. Other cameras may offer misleading images but on the evidence available, the whole of the ball was not out of play,” FIFA said in two tweets with videos showing different angles of the ball proving its curvature was not entirely behind the goal-line.
Japan’s second goal in their 2-1 win over Spain was checked by VAR to determine if the ball had gone out of play.
The video match officials used the goal line camera images to check if the ball was still partially on the line or not. pic.twitter.com/RhN8meei6Q
— FIFA.com (@FIFAcom) December 2, 2022
Other cameras may offer misleading images but on the evidence available, the whole of the ball was not out of play. pic.twitter.com/HKKEot0j1Y
— FIFA.com (@FIFAcom) December 2, 2022
Japanese fans clean-up stadiums
While the Japanese team surprised everyone with their performance on the field, the Japanese fans won everyone’s hearts with their conduct off the field.
True to how they behave both at home and any country they visit, scores of Japanese spectators were seen cleaning up the stadiums after matches. And they did this for any match they attended — whether or not Japan was playing.
They became a sensation after Bahraini content creator Omar Al-Farooq shared a video showing the fans cleaning up Al-Bayt Stadium after the match between Ecuador and host Qatar — the opening match of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
An amazed Al-Farooq asked some of the Japanese why they were cleaning up the stadium.
“We are Japanese, and we do not leave rubbish behind us, and we respect the place,” was the response he got from one of them.
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Several more videos have since been shared on social media by other users as well as FIFA showing the Japanese fans respectfully collecting flags that were left behind by fans as they go on their cleaning drive.
Their action inspired fans of countries such as Tunisia and Morocco to undertake similar cleaning drives after the matches.
Tidying up after one of their greatest #FIFAWorldCup wins 👏
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) November 24, 2022
And not just fans, even the players won admiration from FIFA too, which revealed that they left their dressing room “spotless” after their match with Germany.
After an historic victory against Germany at the #FIFAWorldCup on Match Day 4, Japan fans cleaned up their rubbish in the stadium, whilst the @jfa_samuraiblue left their changing room at Khalifa International Stadium like this. Spotless.
Domo Arigato.👏🇯🇵 pic.twitter.com/NuAQ2xrwSI
— FIFA.com (@FIFAcom) November 23, 2022
Cristiano Ronaldo’s header that didn’t touch the head
Portugal team skipper Ronaldo has certainly been at the centre of attention in the tournament. One of the world’s richest athletes, he is, after all, the record holder of most international goals.
In Portugal’s 24 November Group H match against Ghana, Ronaldo scored a goal from penalty to become the only footballer in history to have scored in five FIFA World Cup tournaments. But it was Portugal’s match against Uruguay on 28 November which led to a brief controversy over Portugal’s opening goal in the match that Ronaldo claimed as his own.
That goal came at the 54th minute of the game from Portuguese attacking midfielder Bruno Fernandes, with whom Ronaldo played at Manchester United also, till the latter had an unceremonious exit on 22 November.
When Fernandes made a cross, it appeared as if Ronaldo had headed it into the goal. He even briefly celebrated on the field before the official scoreboard gave the goal’s credit to Fernandes. Even FIFA’s official Twitter handle had initially indicated that it was Ronaldo who scored before putting out the official stand.
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) November 28, 2022
Neither Portugal manager Fernando Santos nor Fernandes could clarify after the match whether Ronaldo did indeed make a touch — which social media users dubbed ‘hair goal.’
Reports said that the Portugal team was willing to submit evidence to FIFA to prove that the goal came from Ronaldo’s head.
But Adidas, the official ball manufacturer of the tournament, and FIFA later confirmed that there was no contact.
“In the match between Portugal and Uruguay, using the Connected Ball Technology housed in adidas’s Al Rihla Official Match Ball, we are able to definitively show no contact on the ball from Cristiano Ronaldo for the opening goal in the game,” a statement that FIFA provided to ESPN on behalf of Adidas said.
“No external force on the ball could be measured as shown by the lack of ‘heartbeat’ in our measurements. The 500Hz IMU sensor inside the ball allows us to be highly accurate in our analysis,” the statement attested.
Ronaldo may not have got his ninth World Cup goal then, but the match did set the record for the highest TV audience in Portugal ever.
The first African team to defeat Brazil and a red card that went viral
It takes something special for a team ranked 43rd in the world to defeat a team ranked no.1, which is also the favourite to win the 2022 tournament. And Cameroon did just that.
Playing in Group G, the Central African country had a slim chance of qualifying for the knockout stage. No one could have thought that they would be able to settle for a draw, let alone defeat, the South American giants.
Even though some of Brazil’s star players were out with injuries and the team was basically a “second string” side, as pundits noted, the South Americans nevertheless failed to convert any of their seven shots on target into a goal.
It was certainly a spirited game by the Cameroon side. As the match headed for a draw, Vincent Aboubakar, the Cameroon skipper and striker, hammered in the 92nd minute of the match to create history.
Cameroon had never won a match at the World Cup since 2002, when they defeated Saudi Arabia. Aboubakar himself became only the third African player after Didier Drogba in 2010 and Joel Matip in 2014 to score against Brazil in a FIFA World Cup.
But what went viral on social media was Aboubakar getting a red card from the referee for removing his shirt during celebration of the goal.
As per rules, removing the shirt during the match gets a player a yellow card. Since Aboubakar had already received a yellow card for a previous offence during the game, the second yellow in the same match meant that he was automatically red carded.
Referee Ismail Elfath was also praised on social media for shaking hands with Aboubakar as a gesture of acknowledgement of his heroics before giving the player the red card.
Cameroon, sadly, still could not qualify as Switzerland defeated Serbia in their encounter.
Riots in Belgium
World no.2 Belgium lost to world no.22 Morocco in their Group F encounter on 27 November in what was one of the biggest upsets of the tournament.
Moroccan defender Romain Saïss and forward Zakaria Aboukhlal punched in two goals into the Belgian net. The Belgians, on the other hand, got nine corner kick opportunities throughout the match and had the ball in their possession 67 percent of the time. But the Moroccan defensive line-up repeatedly thwarted any attempt their European opponents made.
The loss pushed Belgium into a position where they would need a victory in their next match — against world no.12 Croatia. It was a major embarrassment for the Belgian national team, which had the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois and Kevin De Bruyne — all of whom are counted among the best footballers in the world in their respective positions.
Riots erupted in Belgium soon after the team’s loss. According to Politico, “violence broke out as Morocco fans celebrated their country’s victory.”
Citing footage from a BBC journalist, the report said that a group of young Morocco supporters smashed up a car and rental scooters. The Associated Press (AP) reported that cars were pelted with bricks, overturned and torched.
The AP report said that a dozen people were detained, water cannons were deployed and tear gas fired in Brussels. More were detained in Antwerp. Disturbances were also reported from Liege.
“Those are not fans, they are rioters. Moroccan fans are there to celebrate,” Brussels mayor Philippe Close said, while trying to defuse the riots.
“Sad to see how a few individuals abuse a situation to run amok,” Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden said.
The AP also reported that similar violence also broke out in the neighbouring Netherlands, where rioters hurled glass and fireworks at the police. Disturbances were reported from Dutch cities of Rotterdam, The Hague and capital Amsterdam.
Son Heung-min’s tears of joy
With a team stacked with some of the finest midfielders, defenders and the man called Ronaldo, Portugal certainly appeared to be the first team to win all of its three matches in the group stages. After all, it came into its last match in Group H — against South Korea — at Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan after defeating both Uruguay and Ghana.
South Korea, on the other hand, had levelled against Uruguay but lost to Ghana. And their road to the knockout stage was dependent not only on their performance but also the performance of Uruguay against Ghana — the other two teams of Group H playing at the same time at Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah.
Ricardo Horta of Portugal struck in the first five minutes of the game to give the lead to the European side. But Korean defender Kim Young-gwon responded with a brilliant show of agility in front of the Portugal net to get the equaliser in the 27th minute.
The scores were level 1-1, when the match entered stoppage time. On the other hand, Uruguay had taken a decisive 2-0 lead against Ghana in their match at around the same time. It thus appeared as if the Koreans would fly back home and Uruguay would advance on goal difference.
But South Korean skipper Son Heung-min — the hero of his country as well as many in Asia — made an outstanding pass from a corner which his midfielder Hwang Hee-chan deftly directed past Portuguese goalkeeper Diogo Costa in the 91st minute to give South Korea the victory.
Since both South Korea and Uruguay ended up with exactly the same points and same goal difference, the former advanced as it had a higher number of goals scored than the latter.
South Korean players celebrated on the field. A picture of Son crying in joy went viral and became one of the most defining moments of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
(Main and Featured image credit: FIFA.com/@FIFAcom/Twitter)