2022 FIFA World Cup

Republic of Korea - Wikimedia Commons

Republic of Korea

Republic of Korea – Wikimedia Commons

The long-awaited FIFA World Cup has returned to Qatar, where the top 32 teams will compete in arguably the most prestigious sporting event in the world. With the end of the group stages, filled with unexpected outcomes and disappointing performances, the entire soccer community is still uncertain who will be crowned the next champions of the world.

This is the first World Cup in history to be played in a non-summer month as well as the first to be played in a Middle Eastern country just off of the Persian Gulf. Throughout its history, it has always been played in the months of May, June, and July, and it has attracted the eyes of millions of viewers from all over the globe, who are tuned in to watch the games. According to SportsNet, soccer is the “world’s most popular sport, played in every corner of the planet and for hundreds of millions of people around the world, it is the ultimate cultural expression.”

Other than the Olympics, the World Cup is the only sport in the world to attract such an enormous amount of views that come from all parts of the world, uniting people together and creating an increased sense of nationalism among nations. Furthermore, the tournament is held at a four-year interval, with the exception of the years 1938-1950 due to World War II, thus contributing to its value. Ethan Le, sophomore student, talks about what makes the World Cup significant and unique to the sport of soccer.

“The world cup is like an international tournament. You have confederations like UEFA, but that’s for Europeans. But, the World Cup is just like the Olympics, but just for soccer,” said Le. “I think that both the history and the popularity of soccer in most countries make the World Cup heavily watched and it’s just that there’s been rivalries that have developed over the years and those rivalries tend to play out in the games.”

In the current 22nd anniversary of the World Cup, the group stage was filled with stunning upsets and unexpected outcomes that may have changed people’s opinions on certain teams. Coming into the tournament, many fans had made their predictions about how certain teams would perform. However, with many powerhouse teams exiting in the group stage, it has left many wondering which teams have looked better to hoist the trophy as they transition into the elimination stages. Two of the most shocking group stage exits of this World Cup have come from Germany and Belgium, who are two of the most talented rosters, with both ranking inside the top 11 of the FIFA world rankings and perceived to make a deep run. Unfortunately for these teams, along with many others, they will have to return back to their respective countries and watch the remaining games from home.

“Honestly, I thought Germany would make it past the group stage. They played very well, especially very early on in the group stage, but that was unfortunately not the case. But, it seems like a very good year for Asian countries, and I didn’t expect them to do really well. I cheered for Germany so I’m pretty disappointed in their performance, but I think that they’re in a good position going into the next World Cup,” said Le.

One of the most highly rated countries that came into this tournament was Argentina after having a 36-match win streak dating back to 2019 and a third-place FIFA world ranking. With the support of a massive fanbase, Argentina stood at the top of the fan’s favorite list to lift the trophy. This is partly due to Argentina’s star player, Lionel Messi, who is considered one of the best to ever take the pitch, but has never won the World Cup. This is likely his last World Cup that he will be participating in as he reaches the age of 35, making fans believe that this his last chance to solidify his legacy as one of the best of all time. However, the entire world was stunned on day 2 of the World Cup after Saudi Arabia pulled off one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history by beating Argentina in a score of 2-1, ending their 36-game unbeaten streak run. Luckily for the Argentina fans, the team was able to complement its opening loss by winning the group stage and beating Australia in the round of 16 to advance to the quarterfinals. Eric Tran, sophomore soccer player and student, points out how Argentina and its athletes have once again reached their expectations after their stunning opening loss.

“When Saudi Arabia beat Argentina, I was very shocked by the result because Argentina is a powerhouse team with all of their starters playing. This is Messi’s last World Cup, and he’s one of the best players to ever play that never won the World Cup, which means that this tournament going forward is important for Argentina to win it all,” said Tran.

In the United States, they were able to advance to the round of 16 after finishing second in their group stage, with their must-needed win over Iran. Their main rivals, however, Mexico, were also eliminated from the World Cup group stages after losing the goal differential to Poland. This was another major upset that occurred in the group stages as Mexico was predicted by many to at least advance to the knockout stages. Hugo Ruiz, sophomore soccer player and student, is a fan of Mexico and believes that there were many missed opportunities that led to Mexico’s elimination from the tournament.

“I think if we had a better coaching staff, then we could’ve gone further because we have the talent and the depth and the squad. I think sometimes that they could have improved on capitalizing on the opportunities and something they did well on was being strongly defensive. I think they could’ve done better,” said Ruiz.

In the previous World Cup, France became the champions of the world while being one of the youngest teams to win his tournament in almost 50 years. Now, this team has become an all-around juggernaut and one of the favorites to repeat as champs despite having multiple key players not participating due to injuries. Since the 21st century, every team that had won the prior World Cup would exit in the group stages of the following World Cup. France has broken this ‘Champions Curse’ after finishing first in their group and seem to be tied for second as favorites to repeat as champions trailing only to Brazil.  With the help of star Forward Kylian Mbappé, who passed Pele for most World Cup goals before the age of 24 and current Golden Boot leader, the French will face a significant test in England for their quarterfinals match as they look to become the third ever team to win back-to-back World Cups with the last one coming from Brazil 60 years ago in 1958 & 1962.

“I think it’s more of France’s chemistry within the team. They seem to work very well together, and they have a very good lineup of young players like Mbappé. I just think that they really work well together. I remember watching England and Senegal play. They have a very good defensive strategy but I’m not sure how that will play out against France; it’ll be very 50-50,” said Le.

Despite their disappointment of missing out on the 2018 World Cup, the United States Men’s National Team has proven that they could become a wrecking force in the years to come, especially considering that they are the second youngest squad in the tournament and the youngest to reach the knockout stages. With a draw to both England and Wales and a win over Iran, the United States finished second in their group, advancing to the round of 16 for the first time in eight years to face the Netherlands. Unfortunately for the United States, their outstanding run in the World Cup would come to an end after a 3-1 loss to the Dutch. On the bright side, there is much room for improvement on both ends of the team as the team is an average of 25 years of age with an incredible amount of talent all over the pitch. Furthermore, the next World Cup will be hosted by the United States, along with Mexico and Canada, where they hope to see more success and make a deep run in the tournament with the advantage of playing in front of their fans.

“As far as the United States, I would say they’re a very young team and they lack a lot of experience, so I think even if they were able to progress through the tournament, I believe they would have struggled competing against those more experienced, older, and higher-quality teams, but I think the future is bright for them, and I think there are big things coming in the future,” said Ruiz. “I definitely think the U.S is able to play the next World Cup in front of their fans is an advantage because I think it’s like what players say about how home advantage is like their ‘12th Man,’ so it’ll bring them a lot of opportunities and it’ll definitely boost their morale and help them push a little further in 2026.”

As we near the deeper stages of the tournament, several overlooked teams have showcased some significant signs to possibly challenge some of the more dominant and experienced teams. This World Cup has shown that some of the underdog teams are able to pull off upsets. Four years ago, Croatia made one of the most remarkable underdog runs in World Cup history, making the finals, but coming just short to France. They will look to continue using their efficient game plan and pick up on the remarkable journey they made four years prior as they face Brazil in the quarterfinals. In this World Cup, Morocco has also proved that anything can happen on the big stage after becoming the first Arab country to reach the quarterfinals with a penalty victory over Spain. Benjamin Tran, sophomore student, has been impressed with the way Morocco has handled the challenges in their path and hopes to see more upsets from them going forward.

“I think Morocco is doing pretty good in the World Cup right now, and I’m pretty impressed with their performance [against Spain]. They definitely can pull off some more upsets throughout the World Cup, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how they do against Portugal,” said Tran.

Overall, the World cup is a way for the global world to draw their eyes away from political affairs and instead focus their attention on a major sporting event that has its roots in bringing and uniting people together with an increased sense of nationalism. As expected, the 2022 World Cup has not failed to disappoint with its exciting games that will still be played and ability to attract such a mass audience from all over the globe. With many teams still left in the bracket, along with many other factors that will play out, the longing sense of which country will hoist the trophy is still at large. “We all have different points of views on certain political subjects, but the World Cup games help bring us together. I think it’s anyone’s game to take home the trophy at this point,” said Tran.