2022 World Cup: As It Happened

Already voted as the best World Cup of the century with a whopping 78% of votes, Qatar’s World Cup enamored audiences with a heart-stopping final, scintillating upsets, and explosive controversy, in addition to having the most goals scored in a World Cup [1].

Controversy in Qatar 

Even before the World Cup started, Qatar’s bid has generated controversy since it was first announced in 2010. Critics pointed to Qatar’s summertime temperatures being dangerously hot, and alternatively, holding the tournament in the cooler fall season would disrupt the schedules of top European leagues. In addition, FIFA officials who voted in favor of Qatar’s bid drew allegations of bribery and corruption [2]. Qatar’s human rights abuses also attracted criticism from activists and officials alike. The country criminalizes homosexuality and actively exploited its workforce leading up to the cup, ninety percent of which were migrant workers. In addition, Qatar silenced the ‘One Love’ armband campaign regarding the support of LGBTQ+ rights [3]. 

An investigation by the Guardian revealed that over 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since the bid, most of whom were from Southeast Asia and merely passed off as “natural deaths” [4]. Despite mounting evidence and criticism, Qatar has continued to dispute claims, leading to many questioning the transparency of its government.

In addition, Qatar claimed that the World Cup would be carbon neutral, raising concerns about greenwashing. The country has little to no access to fresh water and needs at least 10,000 liters of water a day to maintain its stadiums and training fields. Qatar relied on desalination, meaning saltwater was debrined to produce drinkable water. However, desalination carries significant environmental costs, as it requires a great amount of energy often satisfied by burning fossil fuels, in addition to emitting brine, a pollutant harmful to marine ecosystems [5].

Group Stage

Qatar losing first game

After four years of nervous anticipation and several controversies, soccer fans from all over the world finally fill up the newly built Al Bayt Stadium in Qatar, waiting for the first match of the 2022 World Cup. Underneath the bustling stadiums, in their separate locker rooms, the Ecuador and Qatar teams receive their last words of advice from their coach and their captain. Then, with their national anthems sung, and a flip of a coin, the 90 minutes start. 

Yet November 20th starts off the World Cup with a historical moment: Qatar becomes the first ever host country to lose their opening game. 


USA and Wales ties 1 – 1 

Day 2 starts on November 21, and after Iran’s crushing defeat against England, the afternoon brings us the USA vs Wales match. While I had no doubt in my mind that Wales wasn’t the world’s greatest team, my lack of faith in the USMNT should not be underestimated [6]. 

So imagine my absolute shock when Timothy Weah scores for the US in the 36th minute. And then imagine my absolute shocked delight when it reached the 80th minute:, no goal in response from Wales [6].

But I should’ve known. Right as one of the Wales players went down in the penalty box from a foul, so was the start of the downfall of the USMNT. Gareth Bale scores a penalty kick in the 82nd minute, and suddenly the game ends in a tie. I really should’ve known [6].


Argentina losing to Saudi Arabia 1 – 2

November 23rd was a big day for me. Not for the coaches, not for the players, but for me. I was seeing Argentina play in the World Cup for the first time in four years, and after such a disappointing loss in the Round of 16 in the 2018 World Cup, I was excited for another shot. I woke up early, 5 AM on a school day of all things, to witness Lionel Messi’s first game in his last World Cup [7].


The entire world watched Argentina vs Saudi Arabia that day with an unshakeable confidence in the South American country. Ten minutes into the game, when Messi scored the first goal, that confidence only seemed to increase, and when the first half ended with no goal from Saudi Arabia, that confidence reached an all time high. This game seemed already finished [6]. 


Saudi Arabia won 2 – 1 against Argentina. Saudi Arabia won. Saudi Arabia. Won.Saudi Arabia won 2 – 1 against Argentina. Just two minutes into the second half, and then eleven minutes later, they managed to put two balls in the back of Argentina’s net. And honestly, I wish I could explain to you what happened but I’m still busy trying to figure it out months later [7]. 


Japan upsets Germany and Spain 2- 1

The German national team is largely regarded as one of the strongest and scariest forces to play against. Despite winning the World Cup in 1954, 1974, 1990, and 2014, Japan utilized the strategy of  ‘parking the bus’ to devastating effect in both matches, a strategy which focused on defense before going full throttle for a few minutes in the second half.


Portugal and England


In a 3-2 game, Portugal held off Ghana while the heavily-favored English side produced a stalemate against the US, renewing American fans’ hopes that their national team could go toe to toe with some of the world’s best. The USMNT eventually qualified for the knockout stage after defeating Iran, marking the seventh time they have reached the Round of 16, although they have only advanced past the knockouts once, in 2002.


Knockout Stage


Beginning on December 3rd, the knockout stage featured sure wins by top contenders alongside key upsets.


Netherlands knocks out the USMNT

Although described as an aging team, the Dutch showed that they were a strong contender after cruising past the United States. Both tactically and offensively, the Netherlands retained control over the match. Led by Louis van Gaal who has coached top European teams such as Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, the Dutch based their strategy on targeting the flanks, scoring three of the same type of goal and cleaving open the opposition midfield as the Americans failed to adjust.

However, it’s now clear what the USMNT lacks: the ability to finish or take advantage of opportunities to score goals. Despite consistently creating chances in the tournament, the USMNT failed to capitalize on a crucial chance in the opening five minutes, only scoring when the ball was deflected off of Wright’s heel in what could only be considered a stroke of luck [8].


Croatia defeat Japan on Penalties

It’s no secret that Croatia loves extra time. The team has won five of their last six FIFA World Cup knockout games after extra time, with four of those going to penalties [9].

After winning 3-1 on penalties, owed to Livakovic’s outstanding goalkeeping, Croatia was set to face Brazil in the quarter finals. Japan’s Round of 16 finish equaled their best-ever performance at the World Cup, and in upsetting heavyweight European teams, manager Hajime Moriyasu was appointed as the first coach to manage the Japanese National Team in consecutive World Cup tournaments [10]. 

Argentina, France, England, and Portugal were the favorites going into each of their matches in the Round of 16, and proved their dominance with sure wins. From Mbappe’s brace to Bellingham’s anchoring of the English midfield and Ramos’s hattrick as a substitute for Portugal, it is clear that the younger generation will keep fans invested for years to come. 

In a nail-biting match, Morocco knocked out Spain 3-0 on penalties, eventually becoming the first Arab and African country to make it to the World Cup semi-finals. Spain’s national team boasted a strong, up-and-coming midfield in FC Barcelona starters Gavi and Pedri, but was plagued by a lack of a decisive striker able to finish scoring opportunities. With Morocco’s excellent defensive and goalkeeper, Yassine Bounou, Morocco prevailed in a penalty shootout as Bounou won the Man of the Match award [11].



Croatia knocks out Brazil on Penalties

In one of the largest upsets of the World Cup, Croatia’s 4-2 victory over Brazil on penalties was reminiscent of the 2018 quarterfinal, in which they defeated Russia on penalties 4-3. The match reached a stalemate until Neymar scored in the 106th minute, but a late 117th minute equalizer shocked Brazilian fans and forced the game to penalties. It was Livakovic’s superb goalkeeping that once again delivered for Croatia over the five-time World Cup Champions and cemented his status as a national hero.

Argentina beats Netherlands in penalty kicks 4-3

After Croatia’s sensational victory, the penalty shootouts were not quite over. In perhaps the most heated match of the World Cup, a record 18 yellow cards and a red were handed out by Spanish referee Mateu Lahoz, with calls so controversial he was not assigned to referee further World Cup matches. Lahoz eventually retired shortly after refereeing a few games in LaLiga, the Spanish league, in which he dished out a similar number of cards per match. 


Opening the score with a goal by Molina threaded off an assist by Messi that appeared physically impossible, Argentina gained a 2-0 lead before losing it in the last twenty minutes of the match as Dutch substitute striker Wout Weghorst pocketed a brace, including a goal from a well set-up free kick. As the match progressed to penalties, Louis Van Gaal, the Dutch coach, claimed that his side would have an advantage should it come to a shootout. However, Argentina’s goalkeeper, Emiliano Martinez, became an overnight hero as he saved two penalties in a match so intense that physical altercations broke out on the pitch. Martinez first rose to fame after saving two penalties (and intimidating the penalty takers by trash-talking them) in the 2021 Copa America semifinal against Columbia, where Messi eventually won his first international trophy after defeating Brazil 1-0 in the final. 


Morocco defeats Portugal 1 – 0 and France defeats England 2-1


Morocco continued their awe-inspiring run by defeating Portugal 1-0, bringing Ronaldo’s fifth World Cup to an end. Meanwhile, France barely defeated a strong English team 2-1 despite the collective agreement that England was indeed the stronger side. With a referee that favored France and the poor decision to let Harry Kane take both penalties for England, the odds were stacked against the Three Lions. Specifically, Kane took the penalties against French goalkeeper Lloris, his longtime club teammate and friend, and psyched himself out on the second penalty to shoot it well over the net. Fans soon took to the internet to joke that what was ‘coming home’ this year was, unfortunately, not the World Cup but Kane’s penalty.



Each of the four teams in the semifinal contended with high stakes: Could Croatia, a country with a small population of under four million, make it to back to back finals? Would France be closer to a second consecutive World Cup, or would Morocco defy the odds to reach the final? In what was likely Messi’s last World Cup, could Argentina have a chance at writing a Cinderella ending? Ultimately, France defeated Morocco 2-0 and Argentina defeated Croatia 3-0, but every side gave a performance that was one to remember, ranging from a standing ovation for Croatia’s captain, Luka Modric, to Mbappe and Hakimi, club teammates turned rivals, exchanging shirts, and Kolo Muani, who scored for France mere seconds after being substituted in. 



Now regarded as one of the greatest finals in World Cup history, neither side was projected to have a significant advantage before the match. Argentina had a team of veterans, young players, and a strong sense of unity, a stark contrast from the fractures that emerged following their Round of 16 exit to France in 2018. Meanwhile, France had a lethal frontline and strong center backs, despite losing key players due to injury such as Benzema, Pogba, and Kante. Moreover, an illness had swept the French camp since the semifinals, forcing additional substitutions especially as starters, such as Dembele and Giroud, were substituted off early in the match.

Argentina dominated the first half with a 2-0 lead until the 80th minute, when Mbappe scored off a penalty. Not two minutes later, he scored a second goal off of a series of one-touch passes to level the score, forcing the match to extra time and penalties. Each side scored once again in extra time, with Mbappe bagging a hat trick, yet France lost a crucial chance to seal the game before penalties as Martinez denied Kolo Muani to make the save of a lifetime in the 123rd minute. Argentina ultimately prevailed 4-2 in a penalty shootout, with Messi winning a record five man of the match awards and his second best player award, Martinez winning best goalkeeper, and Enzo Fernandez winning best young player. In addition, with eight goals, Mbappe won the golden boot for most goals scored.

Since the World Cup, players have returned to their respective club teams, with many in Europe’s five big leagues. Argentina, however, erupted into celebrations as Messi had failed to win the World Cup in 2014, and 2022 was perhaps his last chance at the age of thirty-five. Fans remarked at how this was perhaps the end of the ‘GOAT debate,’ the Messi-Ronaldo rivalry that captivated the world for over a decade. Messi is now highly likely to win a record 8th Ballon D’or, an award given to the best player in each year. In addition, Fernandez recently transferred to Chelsea, one of the English Premier League’s most expensive club transfers. 


2022 saw breakthroughs not only for Argentina, but for Croatia, for Japan, for Morocco, among others. As the 2026 World Cup comes to North America, fans can only expect more action and a greater selection of matches, as FIFA plans to amend the group stage to include more teams. 


[1] https://en.as.com/soccer/qatar-2022-wins-best-world-cup-of-the-century-in-bbc-poll-by- landslide-n/

[2] https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/world-cup-2022-why-is-qatar-controversial-location- fifa-tournament-2022-11-15/

[3] https://www.npr.org/2022/11/18/1137204271/qatar-world-cup-controversies

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/feb/23/revealed-migrant-worker- deaths-qatar-fifa-world-cup-2022

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/oct/07/10000-litres-day-pitch-qatar-world- cup-huge-impact-gulf-waters

[6] https://www.foxsports.com/soccer/fifa-world-cup-men-united-states-vs-wales-nov-21-2022- game-boxscore-97041 

[7] https://www.foxsports.com/soccer/fifa-world-cup-men-argentina-vs-saudi-arabia-nov-22- 2022-game-boxscore-97073 

[8] https://slate.com/culture/2022/12/usmnt-loses-the-netherlands-world-cup-elimination.html

[9] https://www.fifa.com/fifaplus/en/articles/world-cup-qatar-2022-croatia-extra-time-and- penalties-a-love-story-denmark-england-japan-argentina-brazil

[10] https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/japans-world-cup-coach-moriyasu-stay-until-2026- 2022-12-28/

[11] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-63930050