By Satvik Shubham
The spectacle that was the Qatar World Cup has come to its awaited conclusion, the winter wonderland in sporting form was quite an event to behold. Prior to the tournament starting, people had their doubts, the fact that a nation without any footballing background was hosting was a hub for such, and however, these political claims were rapidly swallowed when the ever-present watchers were once again encapsulated by the beautiful game. Fairytale and folklore, this tournament had it all, most watched it by a fireplace with frigid temperatures, and this was a World Cup like none other.
Morocco: Upon glancing at the teams participating in the tournament prior to its commencement, few would have suspected Morocco to achieve what they did. The North African side achieved the best finish for an African country, managing to reach the semi final stage, coming on top against opponents such as Spain, Portugal, and Belgium, making a statement for their home continent.
Croatia: Forever underestimated, the aging Croatian side managed another impressive finish in this World Cup edition, achieving a third-place finish after reaching the final in the previous competition of the same stature. Playing as one of the oldest sides at the tournament, experience truly came into play when it came to Zlatko Dalić’s setup. The side have not won any 90 minute games in the knockout stages of the competition since 1998, despite their high standard finishes, their tactic of dragging opponents to extra time and/or penalties has seemingly proved effective to the densely populated nation.
Japan: While this side ‘only’ achieved a round of 16 finishes, their group stage run was quite something to behold, and they left a mark on the tournament in more ways than one. The start was quite emphatic, as they defeated titans Germany in their opening game. Following that was a disappointing loss to Costa Rica, leaving them in a qualification predicament, requiring them to beat high-flying Spain in their final matchup. They achieved this and went on to lose on penalties to Croatia in the next round, valiant, and the epitome of giant killing was seen by the Samurai Blue. They did manage to clean up after themselves in every game they played, highly respectable, as they almost managed to sweep every European giant out of the stadium as well.
Portugal: Truly a tournament to forget for The Navigators, despite a group-topping showing in the early stages of the tournament, with Bruno Fernandes finding form for country, the side promptly crashed out in the quarter-final stage, ending the prospect of a fairytale matchup, and ending for Cristiano Ronaldo and company. Upon their 6-1 thumping of Switzerland in the first knockout game, many saw them as serious contenders, however, the experienced art of structure displayed by Morocco proved too much.
Brazil: While the Copa Mundial did return to South America for the first time since 2002, those in yellow and blue may not be pleased about its exact location. While the side provided solid defensive performances in the early games and returned to their free flowing scoring form against South Korea, Brazil did not seem to have that edge. The high expectations for the nation, with talisman Neymar having a star-studded season, whose injury led to a drop in form, Seleção Canarinho fell into the Croatian trap. The late extra-time equalizer took the side to penalties, where the bookies’ favorites crashed out dramatically.
Belgium: It is known to some, including the team itself, that the side may be aging, however, the fluke victory against Canada in their opening game proved to be a damaging outcome for the Belgium team. While their golden generation in 2018 may be a passing train, few expected them to crash out at such an early stage, with Romelu Lukaku, a player who has a history of world class tournament campaigns with the side, disappointing in the crucial game against Croatia.
Germany: What has happened to Die Mannschaft? The side crashed out in the group stage of the World Cup for the second consecutive edition, despite collecting the highest expected goal tally out of any team in the group stage. While Jamal Musiala found a stage to shine, the other creative outlets lacked, with defensive errors prompting a shock with Japan. The German federation will truly be in the process of wishfully thinking that their luck will change in the next Euros, being hosted on their home turf next year in 2024.
Results: The definition of a fairytale ending was seen in the World Cup final, Messi, finally winning the final piece of the puzzle, Kylian Mbappé being the first to score a hattrick in the final since Geoff Hurst in 1966. The enthralling encounter foresaw the best final in the history of the competition, it had absolutely everything, penalties, late equalizers, drama, storylines and more. It ended with Lionel Messi lifting the trophy, putting icing on the cake that is his astonishing career. The Golden Boot winner was Kylian Mbappé with 8 goals, while the Golden Ball winner was Lionel Messi, who won his second ever, becoming the first player to do so in history. The battle between old kin and new was captivating, as over four billion viewers tuned in.
The author is an aspiring journalist currently studying at Michigan State University.
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