Every four years, in each rendition of the FIFA World Cup, we are subject to a familiar depiction of drama, glory, and passion. This year in Qatar has been no different. Stunning upsets and goals overflowed in the group stage.
In Group A, most of the attention was on the hosts and how they would fare against teams who actually worked to qualify for the World Cup. Needless to say, it did not go well for them. Not only was Qatar eliminated from the competition after their second game, but they ended up boasting an impressive zero wins and a negative six goal differential.
The hosts had something to cheer about in their second match against Senegal when they scored their first World Cup goal in history. Still, by then, most Qatari spectators had left, leaving only the over-enthusiastic fans with suspiciously matching shirts to cheer for their team. It’s speculated that these fans are from other countries and are being paid to cheer on Qatar — a true display of footballing spirit. The Netherlands and Senegal ended up advancing, with Senegal eliminating an Ecuador side that many would’ve wanted to watch more.
In Group B, all eyes were on the U.S. and England. How would they fare in the group with Wales and Iran and more importantly, how would they fare against each other? Although the other games that both teams participated in were entertaining, the hyped-up “Soccer vs. Football” match was a snooze fest. After 90 minutes and zero goals, nothing could separate the sides, and both teams ended up advancing.
Group C started with a complete shock, with Saudi Arabia beating Argentina in their first match. Some may call it luck, but how Saudi Arabia organized their high defensive line was nothing short of perfection. The Argentines were frustrated as they could not find a way to deal with such a tactic. However, the loss ended up not mattering as Argentina finished top of the group, entering the knockout stage with Poland.
Everyone knew what would happen in Group D. As the reigning champions and one of the favorites to win it again, France would surely top the group. This did end up happening, but only after a shocking 1-0 loss to Tunisia in their final game in the group. Denmark and Australia battled it out, with the Socceroos brushing off the Danes and advancing with the shaken-up French.
Group E was nothing short of a rollercoaster. Their first matchday ended with Germany getting upset by Japan 2-1 and Spain thrashing Costa Rica 7-0. Japan then suffered a surprising loss to Costa Rica. On the final day, anyone could either qualify or be eliminated. Japan dispatched Spain in a shocking 2-1 defeat that saw Japan go to the top of the group with Spain right behind them. On the other side, Germany dramatically beat Costa Rica, scoring a series of late goals to secure their victory. Despite their win, the Germans were eliminated in the group stage for the second World Cup in a row — quite shameful for such a talented and well-funded program.
Group F saw a strong Moroccan side climb to the top, with Croatia following them. The Belgian golden generation continued to disappoint, failing to advance. Canada’s second World Cup also ended in disappointment after losing all of their games. The main controversy came in Belgium’s match versus Croatia in their final group-stage game. Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku missed several chances that, had they gone in, would have sent them into the next round. Lukaku has been a source of great debate as of late, with many questioning his quality as a player. He could not prove himself despite stating he was the greatest Belgian striker of all time.
Group G saw Brazil defeat their first two opponents before falling to Cameroon in the final minutes of their last game in the group stage. Cameroonian striker Vincent Aboubakar, who scored Cameroon’s game-winner, took off his shirt to celebrate and was hit with his second yellow card of the game before receiving a sending-off. Serbia and Switzerland were fighting for the final spot in the knockout stages at the same time in which Switzerland would come out on top in a 3-2 thriller.
Similar to many groups, Group H came down to the wire. Portugal and South Korea ended up advancing, with South Korea scoring a game-winner in the 91st minute against Portugal. As a result, Uruguayan hopes of advancing were torn apart despite their hard-fought win against an overperforming Ghana side.
Qatar World Cup or The World Cup?
As mentioned in previous columns, this World Cup is particularly controversial. There have been many fiery interactions across all social media platforms, with people arguing for speaking up about human rights and others arguing for people not to criticize Qatar and just to enjoy the football. I implore those who demand players to only play and not make things political to consider that the players are also humans and not solely for entertainment. They have a job, but they still have the right to speak their mind. Would it be fair to ban a person with a 9-5 job from making any opinionated but harmless comment on social media because it can make their workplace “political?”
This controversy has primarily contributed to the World Cup becoming the Qatar World Cup. Of course, the host nations will always be tied to the World Cup they hosted, but in this case, Qatar and its issues are taking somewhat of a center stage with players protesting for LGBTQ+ and migrant worker rights. It is important to respect a country’s culture, and I understand how Qatar can feel violated for having theirs criticized on such a large stage. However, why would the World Cup even be held here if this was the case?
It is the World Cup, meaning it is an event for the world — not for the world, excluding communities like LGBTQ+. For this reason, Qatar is simply not a good host for an event that has traditionally been all-inclusive.