World Cup 2022: The Good, the Bad, and the Very Ugly

The Good

Despite the best efforts of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) — an organization rotten from head to toe with corruption, crooks and cronies — to exploit the game for all its worth and more, this tournament delivered where it mattered most: on the field. While the quality can no longer compare to the level displayed by a handful of cash-fattened European Champions League clubs, the excitement and drama provided by the last round of group games and the knockout phase (especially from the quarterfinals onward) was enough to have fans and the narrative-driven media almost forgetting the huge humanitarian problems of Qatar 2022. Every individual who watched Sunday's final will have been enthralled by a game they will never forget.

Other positives were that the team lifting the trophy thoroughly deserved it, and that Lionel Messi made a convincing case for being the greatest player of all time. Diego Maradona was 25 when he lead Argentina to the 1986 World Cup, and Pelé was 29 when he won his third with Brazil in 1970. That Messi dominated so many matches at the age of 35, in an era where fast, fit and technically supreme players dominate the top of the game, is testimony to his celestial gifts, his fantastical feet, and his apparently effortless vision, goals and distribution. There is no longer a 'but he never won the biggest title of all ...' after his name. He not only won it, he was the principal factor why.

France deserve the highest praise for coming to the World Cup without several key players, and participating in three of the most open and exciting games — the quarterfinal against England, the semifinal against magnificent Morocco, and of course the 3-3 showpiece against the Argentines. The explosive Kylian Mbappé not only fired in the second World Cup final hat trick in history, he doubtless earned the admiration of millions not just for his imaginative, dynamic play, but for coolly ignoring the persistent attempts of French President Emanuel Macron to plant himself in to the center of his country's young sporting talents. It was like watching an obnoxious, pushy and entitled older suitor being spurned by a glacial super-model.

The Bad

There have been numerous commentaries claiming that the tournament was a success for Qatar. If you think throwing $200 billion down a black hole just because you can afford it, and to try and make yourself popular and accepted within the world at large, then I suppose you could call it a triumph. You could also argue that hosting only served to highlight the problems of putting yourself in the spotlight when you're a demagogic state that suppresses protest, dissent, workers' rights, women's rights and homosexuality.

That's before we even discuss the embarrassment of the Qatari national team, which looked like an English fifth division outfit right from the very first kick, and exited the tournament with a single goal and not a single point. Many Qatari fans (apart from the ones hired en masse from Lebanon to wear the same T-shirts and sing from the same song sheet) reportedly left the opening game against Ecuador at halftime in order to beat the traffic. It's also possible they left because they were thinking, "We suck. I can't stand another 45 minutes of this garbage." We've all done it.

Also nowhere close to being up to scratch for a World Cup finals were Wales, Denmark and Costa Rica, all of whom signposted the further diminished quality we can expect when the 2026 tournament is watered down to 48 teams. If FIFA was a body with any common sense and a conviction about the value of its biggest asset, then it would reverse this decision. That will not happen, because FIFA and its President are not in the business of admitting when they've erred. Although at least they are considering a rejection of the 16 groups of three format next time around.

Until the flawless performance of Poland's Szymon Marciniak in Sunday's final, the standard of refereeing was also poor overall, especially the inconsistent and at times perplexing interventions (or not) of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR). An early flood of yellow cards for foul play was not followed through on, and although the hefty stoppage time adds were a worthy attempt to curb time-wasting and gamesmanship, there are better ways already enshrined in the "Laws of the Game" to take care of that problem. FIFA and its paralytic sub-body IFAB need to completely review the rules and decide which ones we need to implement, and which ones we can discard. How many dozens of foul throws did we see let go, for example? How often was "dissent by word or action" actually punished with a caution?

The Very Ugly

The reaction of some teams to defeat continues to be treated almost as though it's an accepted element of soccer. Uruguay's unconscionable harassment of the excellent German referee Daniel Siebert should see them banned from international soccer for at least five years, but that would involve decisive leadership and consequential sanctions, something FIFA only bothers with when it's purging its own ethics committee. Morocco's post-game histrionics after losing out on the wooden/bronze spoon to Croatia also blighted what had been a groundbreaking tournament for an African side.

Argentina's quarterfinal with the Netherlands was hardly a beacon of world class sportsmanship either. While Dutch super-sub Wout Weghorst was a reflection of both the beauty and the beast in a single body, both sets of players resorted to the kind of petty and puerile conduct that young fans will ape on soccer fields around the world, under the impression that it's all part of the game. It was shamefully compelling to watch, but that doesn't mean it should go unpunished.

Ugliest of all, though, was FIFA President Gianni Infantino and Qatari monarch and self-proclaimed head of state, Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, clawing on to Leo Messi after they had presented him with the World Cup trophy. If Macron was the rejected suitor, Infantino and Al Thani were the desperate fan-boys trying to edge their way into the biggest picture of all. As Messi walked away with the Cup, they followed in his wake, grinning like power-drunk buffoons, the unelected bit-part walk-ons with a craven, embarrassing lust for grabbing the attention on a stage where they had no place at all.

It perfectly summed up Qatar 2022, though: mediocre, morally worthless autocrats riding on the coat-tails of pure genius.

Ten best games:
10. Portugal 6 Switzerland 1
9. Cameroon 3 Serbia 3
8. Japan 2 Spain 1
7. Croatia 1 Brazil 1
6. South Korea 2 Portugal 1
5. Serbia 2 Switzerland 3
4. France 2 Morocco 0
3. Argentina 2 Netherlands 2
2. France 2 England 1
1. Argentina 3 France 3

Top five goals:
5. Jordan Henderson, England vs. Senegal
4. Nahuel Molina, Argentina vs. Netherlands
3. Kylian Mbappé, France vs. Argentina
2. Julian Alvarez, Argentina vs. Croatia
1. Neymar, Brazil vs. Croatia

My tournament XI: Dominik Livakovic (Croatia), Theo Hernandez (France), Josko Gvardiol (Croatia), Romain Saiss (Morocco), Achraf Hakimi (Morocco), Antoine Griezmann (France), Luka Modric (Croatia), Alexis Mac Allister (Argentina), Bruno Fernandes (Portugal), Kylian Mbappé (France), Lionel Messi (Argentina).

Legacy Quote, Qatar 2022:

“I like soccer, I’m a big Lionel Messi fan, but this World Cup hasn’t touched my heart because thousands of workers like me in Qatar were not treated well. We workers have shed blood, sweat and tears to make the World Cup happen, but we weren’t paid properly for it.” Thagendra Adhikari, a Nepalese worker who paid an agent almost $900 for a construction job on World Cup infrastructure. He was promised a monthly wage of $328, but received only $206 per month.

All proceeds from this column will be donated to Human Rights Watch (HRW). You can read the latest HRW reports on Qatar HERE.

23 comments about "World Cup 2022: The Good, the Bad, and the Very Ugly".
  1. Randy Vogt, December 21, 2022 at 6:31 a.m.

    Numerically, 16 and 32 teams work for a World Cup, 24 and 48 teams do not. With 16 and 32 teams, two teams advancing from a group fits well into elimination rounds. With 24 or 48 teams, if you have two teams advance from a group, that would lead to squads getting byes in the elimination rounds or some third-place teams advancing, leading to more teams playing for ties in group play. It is too bad that it's a flawed format the two times that the USA hosts the World Cup.

  2. Ian Plenderleith, December 21, 2022 at 7:09 a.m.

    The best format with 48 teams is one that I believe is under discussion - 12 groups of four, only top 2 teams qualify. The eight best first-placed teams advance to the round of 16, the other 16 teams (four worst first-placed teams and the 12 second-placed teams) play an extra round - the eight winners of that round then advance to play the eight best first-placed teams in the round of 16. That works because it keeps the group phase interesting, and incentivises teams who have won their first two group games, say, to win their third group game rather than field a second XI.  

  3. Randy Vogt replied, December 21, 2022 at 7:15 a.m.

    Ian, those are good points. It's unfortunate that FIFA did not think this through before committing to 48 teams. 16 groups of three teams with two teams advancing from each group was fraught with issues such as two teams colluding to advance on the last game in group play and perhaps overmatched opponents playing for PKs in the first elimination round.

  4. Perry McIntyre, December 21, 2022 at 10:48 a.m.

    Totally agreed with so much of this, Ian - until the Top 5 goals. Wonder strikes, and individual efforts need to incorporate into this decision of course, but lighning-quick counter team goals should also be appreciated. Richarlison's bike and Holland's set piece would have to be in my list. Maybe a Top 10 here would've been better. Otherwise, bravo, especially now Qatar's role is in the rearview mirror.

  5. Ian Plenderleith replied, December 21, 2022 at 4:37 p.m.

    Very fair point - the list is of course completely subjective, and there are no absolute criteria for judging what is 'good' about any particular goal. You could easily have done a top 25 - there were, after all, 172 goals. I loved Holland's set-piece, and gasped at Richarlison's effort too. I think I chose these particular goals though for the pinpoint passing against very tight defences - unlocking the backline required a particular precision and split-second timing, and in Argentina's case it's what helped them win the tournament.

  6. John Richardson, December 21, 2022 at 12:28 p.m.

    The very ugly - Argentinas goalkeepers disgracceful reaction  after receiving his best goalkeeper trophy

  7. Ian Plenderleith replied, December 21, 2022 at 4:38 p.m.

    Disgraceful, but also kind of hilarious. "Here's what I think of all your pomp and ceremony - plus, I'm champion of the world, so..."

  8. Enrique Lopetegui, December 21, 2022 at 12:43 p.m.

    Right on Messi, half-right on best goals (Argentina's Di Maria goal on the final, Enzo Fernández's goal against Mexico, and De Arrascaeta's second goal against Ghana are more deserving than many on that list), and wrong on Uruguay, which was screwed up by the referees and that so-called "flawless" German referee. Having said that, Uruguay defeated itself by giving away the Korea game and most of the Portugal game, and the whole second half against Ghana, in a game it should've won easily by at least two goals.

  9. Ian Plenderleith replied, December 21, 2022 at 4:43 p.m.

    I didn't say the German ref was "flawless", I reserved that adjective for Marciniak. Regardless of Siebert's decisions (and I'm not convinced that he got the calls wrong), the Uruguayan harrassment and borderline physical violence was completely off the radar. No Suarez handball on the line to get them through this time. I'm 100% in awe of Uruguay as a soccer nation and the incredible players they produce, but in sport you have to accept defeat whatever way it comes at you.

  10. DS Rollin, December 21, 2022 at 1:06 p.m.

    Thoughtful and honest; thanks Ian. 

  11. frank schoon, December 21, 2022 at 1:27 p.m.

    Ian, about the Ugly' why didn't you mention Messi's bad behavior after the game as he came towards the loser's and didn't act graceful , like a winner but more like a loser towards van Gaal listening to Messi's tirade or how 'bout when the Argentinian player kicked the ball into the dutch bench.....

  12. Ian Plenderleith replied, December 21, 2022 at 4:45 p.m.

    I don't think the Dutch were exactly top of the league that evening in terms of sportsmanship and model conduct.

  13. frank schoon replied, December 21, 2022 at 7:58 p.m.

    Ian, can you explain what that was  they did bad?

  14. Ian Plenderleith replied, December 22, 2022 at 2:31 a.m.

    Seven yellows, one red, participation in three mass confrontations, non-stop gamesmanship during the penalty shootout...

  15. frank schoon replied, December 22, 2022 at 8:49 a.m.

    What was the bad gamemanship the Dutch promulgated during the penalty shootout...What did they did they do? I can't find any discussion, or even a mention about non-stop gamemanship of the dutch during penalties shoot out.  I would like to know that for myself, just for posterity.

    There were 3 mass confrontations, OK, I understand. It would  helpful  to state the underlying reasons, to get a clearer picture of who caused it.  I found only one reason for one of the confrontations; an Argentinian fouled Ake the dutch player and the ball was kicked right into the Dutch bench , which resulted in the clearing of the dutch bench.

    The referee NEVER issued a Yellow card on the Argentinian player who caused that kick into the Dutch bench and never issued a Yellow card to Messi who stuck his hand out in midair to stop the ball ,thus preventing a counter attack by Holland. These two infractions were the most blatant and obvious , one need not take a ref course to see that...There were quite a few yellow cards on both teams, in which the Argentinians lacked 2, the  aforementioned.

    From what I read why the Argentinians were so upset at the dutch over something van Gaal stated about Messi concerning Messi in WC'14. This was misinterpreted so as to rile up the Argentines ,which don't take much .... It was explained by van Gaal a day later why Messi came to the Dutch bench ,after the game, in confrontational manner.

    He was so upset about what van Gaal said.  It was actually a compliment van Gaal gave but was totally misinterpreted. Van Gaal stated that during the WC'14, they played Argentina in a tactical manner by making sure to cut off the supply to Messi, thus making the Argentinians in fact play with 10 men. Somehow this got all misinterpreted as an insult to Messi, and i'm sure Argentinian coaching staff rubbed it in and made a meal of it to get players emotionally ready. And that was the underlying reason for much of what was occurred on the field...Argentina has a history of pulling shenanigans on the field for their benefit..


  16. Andrew Brown, December 21, 2022 at 2:29 p.m.

    The best game list should be asterisked. Some of the best games were game 3 of the group stage and the parallel game's scoreline, made the current game even better. That dynamic was one of the best parts of this World Cup. 

    One "Good" thing that is missed here - the offside imaging, almost like a horse race photo finish, put to bed a lot of the controversial arguments we've had for decades. Everyone knows that Varane's backside kept Argentina onside in the game tying goal!

  17. Kent James replied, December 22, 2022 at 10:59 p.m.

    Excellent points.

  18. James Madison, December 21, 2022 at 3:14 p.m.

    For those of us in the United States, Ian could also have commented on the lame FOX telecasting and the excellent,as usual, Telemundo presentation.

  19. Ben Myers replied, December 21, 2022 at 3:44 p.m.

    I only wish that I had watched Telemundo when Darke was not doing the matches on Fox. My vomit reflex at the inept Fox commentators prompted me to hear Andres Cantor call the second half perfectly, with play-by-play naming all the players in a language I do not understand well. Cantor was the high point for me. G-O-O-O-A-L!!!

  20. Kevin Leahy, December 21, 2022 at 9:55 p.m.

    DiMaria's goal for me was the best! The buildup was fabulous. Definitely agree with Neymar & Mbappe being there. There is plenty of ugliness in the world so, I prefer to focus on the positive from this tournament. FIFA should focus on fixing offside, tactical fouls, dissent & defenders standing one yard in front of free kicks. The open game is what the fans want.

  21. beautiful game replied, December 22, 2022 at 6:58 p.m.

    I agree with Kevin L. Instead of addressing and simplifing the LOTG and making the action on the pitch more offense oriented, FIFA is constantly dragging its feet when it comes KL's beefs. FIFA's concentration on the revenue$, first and foremost, is a dereliction of its due diligence that the LOTG are in need of. 

  22. Fajkus Rules, December 23, 2022 at 4:45 p.m.

    Adding 16 teams who couldn't qualify for this final is such a gross dilution of talent that we won't adequately be prepared for how bad the group stages will be in 2026, no matter how they align the groups.  If they were smart, they would reduce the expansion to 40 teams and go with 8 groups of 5 teams, providing a fourth group stage game for each team.  If it's more of a $$$ grab for FIFA, then they could play 3rd place group stage teams vs. 2nd place, with the winners then facing the 1st place group teams.  I would personally prefer instead of knockout games, going back to two groups of four round-robin games among the 8 finalists, with the WC finalists coming from those two group winners.

  23. humble 1, December 24, 2022 at 10:36 a.m.

    For me, not a real WC, rather, a well executed entertainment program.  WC in a monarchy or dictatorship disguised as a democracy is on very shakey ethical grounds. High stakes soccer without the ethics.  Well we already have seen the devolution of the Olympics, Japanese did not even want the last one.  We all know how it got there, so do you believe it's execution will be differnt then it's ornigination?  Just not right in so many ways, stains the beautufil game at the highest level. Laughingstock is FIFA. How can we get rid of FIFA and their stranglehold on the game at the highest level?  Poisoning the game.  Argentina and Messi get their WC win, with an asterix.  Lot's of very dubious VAR calls and non-calls. HD TV on large screen shows all.  In your face, brazen how the officiating was handled not once, twice, but over and over in many pivital moments in many games.  Without the refs in your corner you don't have chance, and, the refs can put a game into extra time, if they chose.  Says it all that 3 of the six goals were from penalties in the final.  Jaded.  Still, on the entertainment front, top class.  No arguing that. 

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