After seventeen days of action, the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar is into its quarter-final stages, as the round-of-16 phase came to a conclusion on Tuesday night.
So far, 56 matches have been played at the Mundial with 148 goals scored. Eight more games are yet to come – four quarter-final fixtures, two semi-final ties, one third-place match and the Final set to go down on December 18th.
While we catch our breath with the two match-free days afforded to us by FIFA just before the commencement of the quarter-finals, we shall take a seat and rewind to the last seventeen days where action at the 22nd edition of football’s greatest spectacle have thrilled fans and audiences the world over.
The past 56 fixtures of the Mundial have seen the following occur:
- The use of longer than usual added-on time to compensate for goal celebrations, use of VAR and time wasting by players and teams.
- The use of semi-offside technology.
- History being made when Stephanie Frappart became the first female referee to officiate a FIFA Men’s World Cup encounter.
- Disciplinary record has been generally good, with just three red cards being brandished (Wayne Hennessey for Wales and Vincent Aboubakar for Cameroon while the now-departed South Korea manager Paulo Bento was given his marching orders from the touchline).
- Shocks and upsets of seismic proportions as in the case of Morocco defeating Belgium and Spain en route to the quarter-finals, Japan upsetting Spain and Germany on their way to the Round-Of-16, Tunisia edging France 1-0, and Saudi Arabia defeating Argentina 2-1.
- Predictions being ripped apart in the case of Belgium, Denmark and Germany exiting the Mundial in the group stages.
- Fairytale stories as Morocco became the fourth African country to reach the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup, Japan and Australia also progressing to the knockout rounds in Qatar.
WHO HAS DISSAPOINTED:
BELGIUM: The Red Devils of Belgium came into the tournament with the tag of favourites, having gone on to the semi-finals at the last edition in Russia 2018, even claiming the bronze medal in the process.
Their golden generation of exceptional players were practically on a last-chance salon to claim football’s biggest prize but they fell short in the first round. The Red Devils earned a fortuitous 1-0 win over Canada, lost to Morocco and drew goalless with Croatia to crash out. The consequences of their early ouster has seen head coach Roberto Martinez leave his role as manager, while captain Eden Hazard has announced his retirement from international football at the age of 31.
DENMARK: Denmark had a brilliant qualifying campaign where they conceded only one goal and they defeated France home and away in the UEFA Nations League to cement their status as one side who could go far.
But when competition in Qatar commenced, the squad which had the likes of Christian Eriksen, Martin Braithwaite and Andreas Christensen, finished bottom of their group with only a solitary point as they made an early exit.
GERMANY: Four-time winners Die Maanschaft were looking to put Russia 2018 behind them where they suffered a first-round exit. A group featuring the likes of Spain, Japan and Costa Rica meant on paper that Hansi Flick’s side would qualify easily but the reverse was the case. A shock 2-1 defeat to Japan was followed by a 1-1 draw with 2010 champions Spain before salvaging a 4-2 triumph over Costa Rica which ensured they endured another humiliating early exit at the Mundial.
SPAIN: La Furia Roja simply flattered to deceive in Qatar. After opening their campaign with a 7-0 hammering of Costa Rica, they were pegged 1-1 by Germany before succumbing to an embarrassing 2-1 loss to the Blue Samurai of Japan. At one point, the Spaniards were in danger of being eliminated in the group stages had it been Costa Rica had emerged victorious against Germany (which seemed likely, as the CONCACAF nation led briefly in the tie).
Germany’s eventual win saw Luis Enrique’s charges qualify as runners-up and they got what looked on paper an easy pairing with the Atlas Lions of Morocco in the round-of-16. But lo and behold, much to fans dismay, Spain were dumped out via penalties with none of their players managing to convert even a single spot-kick.
WHO HAS SURPRISED:
MOROCCO: Many critics would never have thought that the Atlas Lions would be in the quarter-final stage of the World Cup at this point in time, but here they are! Morocco have not only upset the apple cart, but have done way more than that as they march on to the last-eight of the Mundial for the first time in their history. Victories over Belgium and Canada in the group phase was followed by a penalty shootout triumph over Spain in the last-16.
JAPAN: The Blue Samurai gave a good account of themselves after being pitted in a tough group that had heavyweights in Germany and Spain. They earned come-from-behind 2-1 victories over Die Maanschaft and La Furia Roja to top Group E.
AUSTRALIA: The Socceroos made this Mundial in the Middle East their best-ever yet, recovering from an opening 4-1 defeat to France on Matchday One to beat both Tunisia and Denmark (1-0 apiece) to qualify for the knockout rounds as runners-up with six points.
AFRICAN TEAMS (GHANA, CAMEROON, MOROCCO, SENEGAL, TUNISIA): This has been Africa’s best-ever outing in the history of the Mundial. For the first time, all of the continent’s representatives won at least a match at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, with some recording shock results.
Tunisia earned a surprise 1-0 win over France on Matchday Three to finish on four points, Senegal won two games against hosts Qatar 2-0 and Ecuador 2-1. The Black Stars of Ghana were 3-2 better than South Korea, Morocco accounted for Canada and Belgium (the latter in stunning fashion), while the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon upstaged five-time champions Brazil 1-0 to end their campaign on four points.
WHO WILL WIN???:
We are now left with eight teams out of 32 that began the journey to be crowned world champions. The countries left to contend for the 2022 FIFA World Cup crown include; Netherlands, Argentina, France, England, Croatia, Brazil, Morocco and Portugal.
Having seen nearly every game played by the aforementioned nations, I dare say that the champions of the world will come from these three teams: France, the Netherlands, Brazil and Portugal.
Argentina have a fine squad but I think they will fall short. England are all noise and the hype while the road may be just too far for Croatia and Morocco.
OVER FOR CRISTIANO RONALDO??:
The 2022/2023 season has not been kind to one of the game’s greatest ever players in the person of Cristiano Ronaldo, who has endured a frustrating opening half to the campaign at Manchester United. His subsequent tirades with manager Erik ten Hag and the Red Devils hierarchy led to his contract being terminated just before the start of the World Cup, while he has only found the back of the net just once in Qatar and that was a penalty.
The 37 year-old’s performances at the Mundial have not been inspiring to say the least and his confidence must have taken a hit, following Portugal’s 6-1 thumping of Switzerland in the round-of-16. Ronaldo was benched for the tie and his replacement Goncalo Ramos notched a hat-trick, which prompted calls for manager Fernando Santos to continue benching the five-time Ballon DÓr winner.
Is this really the end of the greatest player of all time? Join us on Twitter via our handle @ApexFootballApp on Thursday 8th December, 2022 at 18:00 WAT (West African Time) as we hold a Twitter Space where we shall give our analysis on Cristiano Ronaldo and catch-up on all the happenings from the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar in readiness for the quarter-finals.