The Good, Bad and Ugly – Qatar 2022 World Cup Special
While the Premier League is now back up and running, it would be remise of us not to quickly look back at the first ‘Winter World Cup’ and give it the Good, Bad and Ugly treatment.
We will get onto the bad and ugly later, but on the pitch, the Qatar World Cup delivered. Away from the stale predictability of the Premier League’s big six monopoly, you got to see different teams deploy different tactics.
For once, not everyone was trying to play like Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City and why would you, they aren’t the best at top level knockout football after all.
International football is at its best when you have the maverick and superstar players battling it out against teams that are more than a sum of their parts.
In this respect, there is no doubt it was a World Cup for the nostalgic fan. Right up to the last kick, you didn’t know who would emerge victorious, unlike some previous processions by Spain and France in 2018 and of course, it helps when the final is a blockbuster.
Unlike Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua, who seem determined to duck each other, Qatar 2022’s Final gave you a heavyweight showdown for the ages between Lionel Messi’s Argentina on one Last Tango and Kylian Mbappé shouldering a lethargic French team by himself.
It was a match that would have been worthy of Pay-Per-View and neither player disappointed. The fact that Messi came out on top has perhaps tied too nice a bow on the tournament for some watchers, but Argentina were made to work for it in the end.
Villan of The Tournament – Emi Martinez
While it always seemed likely that Martinez would have the best tournament out of the four Aston Villa players, it didn’t look that way when the second Saudi Arabian goal went past his fingertips as Argentina lost their opening game.
From that moment, Martinez was an integral part of their march to glory. Saves against Australia, dominating the Dutch on penalties and barely broke a sweat against Croatia in the semi-final.
The stage was set for the Final. For the first 60 minutes, Martinez has enjoying one of the easiest games of his career. But 2-0 down and with the game threatening to fizzle out, France stepped up and suddenly the Villa keeper came into the limelight. Martinez produced one of the best saves at the most important time in a World Cup, as he blocked one with his left foot in the last minute of extra time.
When it got to penalties, there was only ever going to be one winner.
The media coverage of the World Cup was not stellar by any means.
The main observation has been how quick all the media have been to jump on the popular opinion, rather stick to their own guns or do some research.
You only need to look at the conversations around Lionel Messi to see how opinions change like the wind.
With Argentina drawing 0-0 with Mexico, Lee Dixon and Sam Matterface on ITV commentary decided to give their opinion on how Messi should be taking set pieces and how bad his body language was.
A few minutes later, he was being hailed as a genius after a goal and an assist kickstarted his campaign.
If ever a World Cup exposed the trend for ‘Hot Takes’ this was it. Why pundits fall over themselves with sweeping opinions only to look like fools moments later can only be explained in the chase for social media engagement.
There was also a distinct lack of self-awareness. It’s very hard to believe any media representative on hospitality out there who one minute is showing beautiful backdrops and hotel rooms, while the next is virtue signalling about how awful it is.
The media needed to raise their objections and issues when Russia and Qatar were jointly awarded World Cups. Waiting until you are in a five-star Doha hotel before complaining is a bit late.
It’s a pity more didn’t take the journalistic approach of the late Grant Wahl, who sadly passed away at the tournament. Get on the ground, do the hard yards and have evidence to support your opinions.
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To win a World Cup you have to have an ugly streak.
While some will say it was a fix for Messi to be crowned World Champion, they are missing the point.
This was an Argentina team who knew how to exploit every possible advantage.
The penalty Di Maria won in the final had plenty screaming a fix online, yet it was just exploiting the rashness of the French defence. It was also a clear trip.
Had England a better referee in their match against France it could have been them in the final.
It also didn’t look like a fix for Argentina as Mbappé profited from two equally harsh penalties himself in the final.
The truth isn’t a fix, it’s playing the ugly side of the game. Winding up the opposition, exploiting what you can, and pushing the rules to the extreme, it’s the difference at the World Cup level.
If the greatest player in the World, Diego Maradona, can score with his hand in 1986. Gary Lineker and Michael Owen can go down without contact in 1990, 1998 and 2002. Harold Schumacher and Manuel Neuer can wipe out opposition players in 1982 and 2014. Then it’s as much a fix as it always has been.
All of these moments make the World Cup as much about everything coming together as it is about talent. The top players are always looking for the extra yard, and if you need to get ugly, you do it to win because history is written by the winners.