One of the greatest football matches ever played. –English commentator’s comment on the tournament final.
By Roger Childs
Upsets the order of the day
Qatar was a controversial selection for host country, with rumours of officials being bribed – however this has happened before. More significantly there were major concerns about possibly thousands of foreign workers being killed while building the magnificent stadiums. But once the action got underway, the attention was on the football. In this World Cup most teams played an attacking style which was great for the spectators in Qatar and tens of millions of fans around the world.
It didn’t take long for the upsets to emerge and world rankings counted for nothing. On the second day Saudi Arabia beat one of the favourites Argentina by 2-1. A loss in the Group Play is no problem if you can win your other two matches, which Argentina did. Lowly ranked Morocco upset Belgium 2-0 on 28 November and Australia accounted for Denmark three days later. Both these winners unexpectedly advanced to the Round of 16.
Penalty shoot-outs proved crucial
As the tournament progressed there were tighter matches which often ended in draws after extra time. Morocco beat Spain 3-0 on penalties in the Round of 16 and in the Quarter Finals Croatia, finalists in 2018, caused the biggest upset to this point, by heading off number one ranked Brazil with a margin of 4-2 on penalties. However, Argentina however stayed on track and beat the Netherlands 4-3 on penalties after the score had been 2-2 after extra time.
The biggest surprise in the Quarter Final was Morocco’s 1-0 win over Ronaldo’s Portugal and it became the first African / Arab country to advance to the last four.
In the Semi Finals sanity returned, and two of the favourites, Argentina and France qualified for the final without conceding a goal.
The beautiful game at its best
The media played up the final as a battle between the two brilliant number 10s: Argentina’s Lionel Messi playing his last World Cup, and France’s Kylian Mbappe. Coincidentally they both play for the Paris club Saint-Germain, so they know each other’s play well. The media was right — the twos stars lived up to their exalted reputations.
The final kept the fans on the edge of their seats or on their feet throughout, as fortunes changed. The South Americans were up two nil at half time after a superb penalty by Messi and a great team goal by Di Maria. Messi showed wonderful skill from the spot by inclining slightly left in his run up sending the goalie that way then stroked the ball into the right hand corner of the net. Di Maria hammered the ball home after a wonderful movement involving several players striking first-time passes with pinpoint accuracy. It was great team goal, perhaps the best of the tournament.
Argentina had one hand on the trophy and it was still 2-0 going into the 79th minute. But then the French came alive. Kylian Mbappe fired in a penalty and hit a second powerful goal eight minutes later. After extra time with the two Saint Germain stars each having scoring again, it was 3-3. Mbappe now had a rare hat trick. Both goalies made a series of great saves in the final minutes, so a penalty shoot-out would decide it. In the end Lionel Messi achieved his dream in a final which was a match for the ages and a wonderful advertisement for “the beautiful game”.
Next year New Zealand hosts the Women’s World Cup, a tournament which will attract tens of thousands of overseas fans and provide great entertainment for Kiwi followers.