And exhale. What a World Cup this has been. The 2022 World Cup has been nothing short of exhilarating, thrilling and controversial rife — with so many memorable moments, controversies and best of all, peak football. It’s hard to pick just one from all of them, but here are our most memorable moments from the first-ever winter World Cup in history.
Saudi Arabia beat Argentina
Coming into this game on a 36-match undefeated streak, Argentina was touted as one of the heavy favourites to go on and lift the coveted trophy come the 18th of December. Moreover, they were undefeated in all their previous four meetings against Saudi Arabia as well, which made this win all the more shocking.
Argentina took the lead courtesy of a Lionel Messi penalty and had multiple goals disallowed for offside as Saudi Arabia frustrated them. However, come the second half and an equaliser from Saleh Al-Shehri made things interesting, before a stunner less than 5 minutes later from Salem Al-Dawsari sent the Saudi fans into dreamland.
Saudi Arabia held on for a famous win and left the Argentines reeling psychologically from the defeat. Though the team eventually could not qualify for the next round, the win over Argentina will surely be talked about for many years to come.
Japan top the Group of Death
Group E of the World Cup was touted as one of the most interesting groups, with Spain, Germany, Japan, and Costa Rica all going head-to-head for a place in the knockout stages.
Heavily fancied to qualify from the group were Spain and Germany of course, with the two nations boasting some of world football’s brightest and most established stars, such as Gavi and Pedri of Spain, and Musiala and Moukoko of Germany. However, what happened across the three match days was a rollercoaster of emotions.
Going into Matchday 1 against Germany, Japan were the underdogs and Germany showed their early dominance, with İlkay Gündoğan converting a penalty to give them a 1-0 lead. Japan however, had other ideas. Ritsu Doan first equalised in the 75th minute, before super-sub Takuma Asano scored one of the goals of the tournament, plucking the ball out of the sky with a superb touch before finishing past the German goalkeeper Manual Neuer to make it 2-1 to Japan, which was how the game ended.
Matchday 2 on the other hand, threw a spanner in the works for the Blue Samurai, losing out 1-0 to a Costa Rica team who were dismantled by Spain 7-0 in Matchday 1. This put them in a do-or-die matchup against Spain on the final matchday.
Come the 2nd of December and once again, Japan found themselves behind owing to an Alvaro Morata header which put Spain ahead. But once again, the Blue Samurai found the drive and spark to firstly, peg back the Spanish courtesy of a Ritsu Doan screamer, before Ao Tanaka’s controversial goal gave the Japanese the lead where the ball was judged to have been kept in by the smallest of margins. They held on to finish as Group E winners, making it one of the stories of the tournament.
They will, however, fall short of Croatia in the Round of 16, losing to them on penalties 3 to 1, but their memorable run and how they captured the hearts of all who saw their tenacity and drive will be remembered fondly.
Morocco become the first African country to reach the World Cup Semi-Finals
Coming into this edition of the World Cup, Morocco was relatively unknown compared to other countries touted as potential dark horses of the tournament, like Denmark. They have, however, put in one of the best performances we’ve seen at the World Cup to date.
Going unbeaten and finishing top of their group consisting of Croatia, Belgium, and Canada was no easy feat. Still, Morocco put in the work, most notably beating Belgium 2-0 before setting up a Round-of-16 tie against Spain.
In the knockout tie against Spain, their game plan was clear for all, setting out to frustrate their opponents by letting them have the ball, but not allowing them to make any clear-cut chances. This worked a treat. Spain had 77% of the possession but was limited to a single shot on target throughout 120 minutes on the field.
The tie then had to be decided on penalties. Up stepped Abdelhamid Sabiri for Morocco. Goal. Pablo Sarabia was the next taker and watched as Yassine Bounou saved his spot-kick. Hakim Ziyech calmly converted his penalty to give Morocco a 2-0 lead in the penalty shootout, before Carlos Soler had his penalty saved yet again. Badr Benoun missed his penalty for Morocco, which made things interesting for a few minutes, but Sergio Busquets also fluffed his lines from the penalty spot, which gave Achraf Hakimi a chance to send his side through to the Quarter Finals. He duly delivered, sending the Moroccan fans into delirium.
Moving on to the Quarter Finals, they were up against a Portugal side who had just swatted Switzerland aside in their tie, meaning that Morocco was once again, unfancied. But in a true showcase of spirit, Morocco took the lead against Portugal courtesy of En-Nesyri after a huge Diogo Costa error. They held on after wave upon wave of Portugal attacks to become the first-ever African Side to reach the Semi-Finals of a World Cup, sparking even more tears of joy from the travelling supporters.
Onto the Semi-final tie against France, Morocco was once again, unfancied. There would be no further miracles however, as the French came out winners courtesy of goals from Theo Hernandez and Randal Kolo Muani, in a match where the Atlas Lions threatened to cause yet another shock, but to no avail.
They weren’t entirely done yet however, as they still had the match for third place to play for, against a Croatia side who they drew against in the group stages.
Joško Gvardiol gave Croatia the lead with a stunning header after just 7 minutes played, but with the loud roar of the Moroccan fans, who have been electric throughout their entire campaign, they equalised almost immediately through Achraf Dari. This set the mood for an enthralling game that had the crowd roaring with wave after wave of attacks from both sides.
Croatia though, were the side who would forge ahead via a breathtaking Mislav Oršić curler, putting them 2-1 up, which is how the scoreline remained until the whistle blew for full time. It may have been heartbreaking for Morocco, but they can hold their heads high after writing their own piece of history.
Ghana get their revenge against Luis Suarez and Uruguay
One of the biggest talking points of the Group Stage draw was Uruguay and Ghana being drawn into the same group, with the two teams having bad blood against each other.
As a quick recap, the two sides faced off against each other at the 2010 World Cup Quarter-Finals, where Luis Suarez most notably prevented a Ghanian goal-bound effort using his hands. He was sent off, but the resulting penalty was missed, and footage of Suarez celebrating wildly was made known worldwide. Unfortunately, Ghana would go on to lose the penalty shootout, and Uruguay would progress.
Going into this one, Uruguay knew that a win for them and a loss or a draw for South Korea would ensure their progress to the knockout stages. Everything was going swimmingly well for La Celeste after they found themselves 2-0 up courtesy of a brace from Giorgian de Arrascaeta.
However, there was yet another twist in their story, as a late South Korean goal against Portugal meant that Uruguay needed another goal to progress due to them not having scored as many goals as the Koreans. Ghana however, held firm and condemned Uruguay to elimination. Suarez, who could only watch on from the bench helplessly as his team chased yet another goal, was in tears at the final whistle.
Ghana finally got their revenge against their arch-enemy, 12 years after the damning defeat in 2010.
France and Argentina play out a World Cup Final for the ages
Framed as the match of the tournament, Argentina vs France promised so much on paper. Two outstanding teams going head-to-head for the title of World Champion, Messi could finally win the World Cup and banish his demons of 2014; Mbappé to win his second World Cup and solidify himself as a legend at just the age of 24.
Argentina was dominant for large parts of the game, scoring first through a Lionel Messi penalty and solidifying their lead after Ángel Di María finished off a flowing team move. After that, they proceeded to shut out France, with the French struggling to find any inspiration to break down the Argentine defence.
Then came a lifeline. The blare of the horns, the sudden rouse of the crowd, the sudden rise in anticipation from the commentators. Kolo Muani was felled in the box by Argentina’s Otamendi — France had a penalty. Kylian Mbappé duly converted with pace and power.
Less than a minute later, the turnaround was complete. That man again, Kylian Mbappé volleyed home a stunner to silence the Argentine crowd. Everyone was stunned. France looked to be down and out since the start of the match, but had clawed their way back into the tie.
France was looking more and more likely to nick the game with a winner. Once again, Argentina was left reeling from another psychological shock. They had barely put a foot wrong all game, but had to suddenly dig deep and search for a winner yet again. Yet they managed to hold on and send the game to extra time.
Extra time kicked off with Argentina having managed to settle their nerves and started to look more composed yet again. In the second half, they proved their mental fortitude as Lionel Messi orchestrated yet another flowing move, before he tapped the ball in from close range following a save.
But if you thought that the drama ended there, there was another twist in store. The echo of the referee’s whistle reverberated around the stadium as he pointed to the penalty spot in favour of France, a mere 2 minutes from time. Kylian Mbappé was the man to step up and duly wrote his name into the history books. The first man to score a World Cup Final hat trick since Geoff Hurst in 1966. The Starboy.
Penalties yet again, were needed to separate the two sides. Mbappé and Messi both slotted their penalties away without much doubt, but a tremendous save from Emi Martinez denied Kingsley Coman from the spot, putting Argentina within reach of the World Cup.
Paulo Dybala was up next for the Argentines, coolly slotting his penalty away. Aurélien Tchouaméni however, couldn’t do the same, sending his wide of the post, handing Argentina a golden opportunity to be crowned world champions.
Gonzalo Montiel made absolutely no mistake, sending the crowd into delirium and ensuring that the World Cup would have a South American winner yet again. Messi had finally banished the demons of 2014 and won the trophy that has eluded him for so long.
A picture usually says a thousand words, and this one had just that.
To sum it all up, a quote by Sir Alex Ferguson – “Football, bloody hell.”
Visuals courtesy of FIFA World Cup, Argentina, and Équipe du Maroc on Twitter. Images used are copyright of their respective owners.