My coffee begins to cool as I tap and click and scroll away through Europe’s top leagues. They’re interesting, sure, but not nearly as interesting as what else has been going on this Summer. Who can resist getting wrapped up in the drama, the chaos and the pure magic of a bloody World Cup? The 2022 World Cup was originally scheduled to be held in Qatar, but the logistics of holding the tournament over there, battling temperatures that range from unreasonable to life threatening and moving the whole world’s footballing calendar to suit proved too great, so Canada became the host nation instead. The hosts were joined by Mexico, USA, Jamaica and Costa Rica as the North American qualifiers failed to throw up any serious upsets. Good on Jamaica though, it was nice to see them get to a major tournament.
The Asian qualifying groups were a little bit juicier – With would-be host nation Qatar falling at the second round hurdle, it was Japan, South Korea, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran that eventually qualified. With Australia and New Zealand also failing to reach Canada, this is the first World Cup not to have an Oceanic contingent since USA ’94.
There were absolutely no major shocks in South America though where Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay lead the way to the finals. Chile and Paraguay also made it while Columbia missed out.
A lot of the usual suspects made it through the African qualifiers too: Senegal, Nigeria and the Ivory Coast were predictable enough but Cameroon didn’t even make it to the final round while Congo were Africa’s surprise package.
And finally, Europe. Again, England were the only nation from the UK to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, although Wales came pretty close behind their Group leaders Ukraine. Belgium, Portugal, Croatia, Poland, England, Sweden, Germany, Italy and Switzerland won the other groups and Denmark, the Netherlands and France went through the playoffs. The shock absentees were Spain, who sacked Luis Enrique after his team couldn’t find a way past the Swedes in the group stage or the Dutch, who they faced in the playoffs.
So there were a couple of shocks in the qualifiers but there were a couple more still to come. Group A of the finals is a fine example, where Paraguay topped the group and were joined in the next round by Iran, who both finished above Belgium! Canada finished bottom of that particular group, which I’ll grant you isn’t all that surprising. In Group C, Uruguay put in an uncharacteristically poor performance and finished dead last too, also losing all of their matches to Italy and Mexico, who went through, and Denmark. The rest of the groups were pretty much standard though. Sweden failed to continue their fine form from qualifying and were left behind with the majority of the Asian and African nations, while the Netherlands, Portugal, England, Chile, France, Japan, Germany, Poland, Brazil, Croatia, Argentina and the USA went through to the knockouts.
There were few shocks in the second round: Joachim Löwe’s Germany, Levir Culpi’s Brazil, Danny Blind’s Netherlands, Massimiliano Allegri’s Italy and Arsene Wenger’s France all progressed, as did Marijan Vlak’s Croatia, who knocked out Leonardo Madelón’s Argentina in extra time. Paraguay, lead by Francisco Arce, went the furthest out of the “Underdog” nations, edging past Rui Vitória’s Portugal in the second round only to face the humiliation of being knocked out in the quarter finals by perennial under-performers England, who themselves had beaten Memo Vázquez Jr’s Mexico in the first knockout match under the steady guiding hand of Eddie Howe.
Elsewhere in the quarters, Croatia’s jubilation was short lived as France dumped them out of the competition and there were wins for Germany and Italy over Brazil and the Netherlands. Italy went out at the expense of France in one semi-final, while in the other a full blown miracle happened, making me really regret not watching the tournament live and instead looking up the results in a café after the fact: England knocked out Germany… Wait for it… In a penalty fucking shootout. Let the names of David Crammond, Dele Alli, Phil Jones, Eric Dier and Nathan Redmond be etched into the history books for the rest of time.
This set Howe’s Lions up for a thrilling final against Wenger’s… Roosters… At the Ottowa Community Stadium in Ontario and despite a late fight back and a brace scored by Stoke’s young prodigy Joe Bell, the French defended their title as World Champions, a feat that’s not been achieved since Brazil in ’62, a full 60 years ago. Kingsley Coman opened the scoring early on and was joined on the scoresheet by Kylian Mbappé and Antoine Griezmann before the 25 minute mark, giving France just enough of a cushion to see the game out at 3-2. Paul Pogba, the tournament’s Best Player in 2018, was instrumental once again, weighing in with 2 assists.
It was Pogba’s compatriot and scorer of the Cup-winning goal Kylian Mbappé that scooped the Best Player award this time around for his involvement in a staggering 9 goals in 7 games, 4 of which he scored himself. Dele Alli was a fair way behind in second place with Italian Daniele Rugani coming in 3rd.
Watford’s pacy Dutch winger Kenny ten Hove earned the Best Young Player award for his extremely promising performances for the Netherlands, while PSG’s Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was the Best Goalkeeper.
The golden boot winner was a little bit of a surprise: Walter González of Paraguay and Al-Ahli scored 5 in 5 for his country and beat Italian Andre Belotti by virtue of having scored his 5 in 1 less match. Fellow Italy striker Simone Zaza was in 3rd place for his 4 goals, an impressive tally to say that he only made 3 appearances.
The Dream Team featured some exceptional talent, as you’d expect. Donnarumma was selected in goal with a defence of Spurs’ Eric Dier, Juve’s Leonardo Bonucci, Monaco’s Daniele Rugani and Barcelona’s Samuel Umtiti in front of him. In an all-Premier-League midfield, Manchester rivals Thomas Lemar of City and Kingsley Coman of United flank a midfield duo of Coman’s United teammate Filippo Melegoni and Spurs man Alli, while Walter González is joined by Arsenal and Brazil striker Roberto Firmino up front.
So vive la France once again! I’m so bloody proud to see an England team do so well in a tournament for once but I suppose it just wasn’t meant to be. Maybe they’ll get another shot next time? Or maybe France will make it an unprecedented 3 World Cup wins in a row? It’s a bit annoying that we’ll have to wait until USA 2026 to find out. As I reach out for my room temperature coffee my hand freezes in place. The small shopkeeper’s bell “Ding-a-ling”s as the door opens. Here he is. This should be interesting.