December 21, 2022
JAKARTA – The FIFA World Cup final on Sunday evening was truly a night to remember, especially for the Argentinian hero, Lionel Messi, who eventually lifted the only trophy that had eluded him in his illustrious career before that epic match against defending-champion France.
No one would forget Argentina’s messy start last month, when it suffered an upset 1-2 loss to Saudi Arabia. With more Asian and African outsiders springing surprises that led soccer giants like Germany and Belgium to an early exit, this year’s memorable tournament augurs a multipolar world of soccer beyond the archrivalry between Europe and Latin America.
In general, the first World Cup set in the Arab and Muslim world offered not only pieces of history, but also a display of a more-level playing field among the finalists than in the past. Two teams from Asia (Japan and South Korea), Australia and two from Africa (Morocco and Senegal) attained the knockout stage, with Morocco producing a giant killing run for a place in the semifinals.
Seeing how Japan humiliated four-time champion Germany; South Korea tamed former-champion Spain; and Morocco sent Belgium, Spain and Portugal packing, we can hope the next World Cup in 2026 in Canada, the United States and Mexico will see a champion from Asia, Australia or Africa.
Nevertheless, the Qatar World Cup was the fairy tale of Messi. In the most-anticipated fashion, he proved he deserves the greatest-of-all-time tag, not only due to his skills but also because of his sportsmanship and leadership. He guided his team to bounce back from the opening defeat to end its country’s 36 years of waiting to win its third World Cup.
Messi, who previously hinted at a possible retirement from national duty after Qatar, told a post-final match interview he would continue playing for Argentina. “I want to keep experiencing a few more matches as world champion,” said the 35-year-old.
His talismanic role earned Messi the Golden Ball award, while the Golden Boot went to his PSG teammate Kylian Mbappe, the top scorer in the month-long tournament with eight goals, including a hat-trick in Sunday’s final. It was the second hat-trick in the World Cup final since Geoff Hurst’s three goals that helped England win its first trophy in 1966.
With a ground-breaking attendance of over 88,000, spectators watched the final at Lusail Iconic Stadium in Doha, with a record television audience of 1.5 billion worldwide.
Another highlight of the World Cup was the refereeing job for Frenchwoman Stephanie Frappart during the Group F match between Germany and Costa Rica, the first female to officiate a men’s World Cup.
Like any other prestigious international sporting event, however, Qatar was not free from controversies. Human rights and labor protection were two main issues plaguing Qatar’s administering of the World Cup, not to mention controversies that marked the Gulf state’s successful bid to host the tournament. The Qatari government said the criticisms were unfair and misinformed, pointing to the labor-law reforms enacted since 2018.
Now that the curtain has been lowered, the world is preparing for the next round of extravaganza. See you in 2026, when the field will be expanded to 48 for a better, merrier competition.