In Uganda, football is not only the most passionately supported sport ever but the most talked about event alongside entertainment. In November, the sport`s biggest competition, The FIFA World cup started in Qatar and to most Ugandans, the timing of a such a tournament couldn’t have been any better especially at a time when most households own television sets and can afford paying for subscription to watch the tournament and also those who couldn’t afford that were being catered for by the national broadcasters in UBC or also to the passionate fans who want to watch with friends, they could catch the glimpse at their favourite bars and “bibandas”. For this tournament, it was evident that it was going to be a FIFA World Cup like no other.
The first to be hosted in the Middle East, the first to be played in November and December, and the first of its size to be held in such a small geographical area, Qatar 2022 offered a fresh twist on this old and much-loved festival of football.
But while the treading of so much new ground came with opportunities – the novel prospect of attending multiple World Cup matches in a single day, for example – the risks were clear and undeniable.
Gianni Infantino admitted as much earlier this week, when he confessed to pre-tournament concerns “about having so many fans from so many countries, at the same time, in the same place”.
“In a normal World Cup, you have in one city fans of two countries, not more,” added the FIFA President. “Here, you have 32 countries plus all [the] other fans from the world who come to enjoy the World Cup together in the same place.”
Given that the place in question has a population of less than 2.9 million and its stadiums are all within a 35-mile radius, questions naturally arose about how Qatar and its infrastructure would cope with a such a mass invasion. Others wondered how the on-field fare would be impacted by the tournament taking place in the middle of most players’ domestic seasons, with reduced preparation time an inevitable consequence.
One by one, of course, those doubts were swept away by a tidal wave of fantastic football, flawless organisation and friendly, passionate atmospheres on the streets and in the stadiums.
Jurgen Klinsmann this week described it as “a World Cup organised to perfection”, while Infantino has been far from alone in declaring Qatar 2022 to be, quite simply, “the best ever”.
The same description is, of course, being applied increasingly widely to the tournament’s star man. Lionel Messi was already a leading contender for ‘GOAT’ status but his claims to that title have been further fortified by a truly magnificent month in Qatar.
In the highest-scoring World Cup of all time, it was goals from Argentina’s captain that did most to determine the direction of the title. And not even La Albiceleste’s fiercest rivals could begrudge this wonderful player his well-deserved moment with the prize he has so long coveted.
Champions: Argentina Runners-up: France Third place: Croatia
adidas Golden Ball: Lionel Messi (ARG) adidas Golden Boot: Kylian Mbappe (FRA) adidas Golden Glove: Emiliano Martinez (ARG) Best Young Player: Enzo Fernandez (ARG)
From the butt of the world’s jokes to the worthiest of champions, La Albiceleste enjoyed one hell of a ride. And just as no-one foresaw that opening-match defeat to Saudi Arabia, few could have imagined that they would recover to achieve their long-held dream in such impressive – and dramatic – circumstances.
As for their talisman, what more can be said? Messi is quite rightly a beloved figure far beyond Argentina’s borders, and neutrals across the world were both captivated and converted to his team’s cause by the little magician’s pursuit of World Cup glory.
It took 88 years of attempting for an Africa team to reach the World Cup semi-finals. Morocco were the continental trailblazers.
After sinking Belgium in the group stage, Yassine Bounou, Achraf Hakimi, Hakim Ziyech, Youssef En-Nesyri and Co eliminated Spain in the last 16 and Portugal in the quarter-finals. The Atlas Lions also gave France a strict examination in the last four before losing an end-to-end encounter with Croatia 2-1 in the battle for bronze.
It simply must rank as one of the greatest achievements in World Cup history – a nation inhabited by fewer than four million people finishing second and third at back-to-back editions.
Zlatko Dalic lost several key components of his 2018 side, such as Danijel Subasic, Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic, but new stars emerged in the shape of Dominik Livakovic and Josko Gvardiol to complement the divine talent of Luka Modric. The Croatian highlight was a stunning elimination of tournament favourites Brazil en route to finishing third.
Would four-time champions Germany or 21st-century titans Spain win Group E? Japan made a mockery of the question the masses were assessing by slaying both those giants to finish top. The Samurai Blue also became only the third team in World Cup history, and the first since West Germany in 1970, to win two separate games in which they had been trailing at half-time.