Opinion: This World Cup Is One To Remember (Both The Good And Bad) 

This year's World Cup has much to remember, from FIFA's corruption to historic wins on the field./FIFA

By Gabriela Flores

 

   Reader, full disclosure before I rant on for the oncoming 900 words: I’m neither experienced nor well versed in soccer, or what most of the world outside of the United States calls “football.” There is one thing that I am certain of — and that is the sense of pride that rushes over my competitive soul when World Cup season comes around. 

   As the World Cup’s final matches drew near, Argentina, France, Morocco, and Croatia were the four left standing for the semi-finals. Beating Croatia on Tuesday, Argentina secured their chance to hold the 2022 global cup with a 3-0 win. 

   This year’s wins from the quarter-finals saw a first: Morocco, the first African country to head into the semi-finals this Wednesday, Dec. 14. You, like me, were likely not in Qatar enjoying the 1-0 win against Portugal, but trust me, you could hear the immense roar that came from the Moroccan crowd last Saturday from wherever you watch your sports.

   By the 42nd minute, striker Youssef En-Nesyri landed a stunning header in the split second that the Portuguese net was free. I’d like to think I’m not a sadist, but when it comes to the underdog beating top players like Cristiano Ronaldo in a game they’ve dominated for so long, it’s hard for me not to get excited. Ronaldo was noticeably absent in the first half of the game and absent for the majority of Portugal’s previous matchup, where its players swept Switzerland 6-1. Some can’t help but wonder if the notorious CR7 just isn’t cut out to be the center of attack and attention for Portugal anymore. And since this is presumably his last FIFA Cup, the loss must’ve stung. On the flip side, though, Morocco is making history!

   Not only was Morocco’s footwork clever, but so was their goalkeeper, Yassine Bounou, or Bono. Morocco’s mark on the World Cup this year will undoubtedly be one for the books, as will Argentina’s soccer stealth. It’s no surprise that Argentina, with their Captain Lionel Messi as one of the most legendary players in the world, is making strides left and right. As a sore loser, I was honestly hoping for Argentina to be bested by the Netherlands during the quarter-finals since my native Mexico has never been able to land a FIFA win against the men decked in white and blue. But, I can’t deny talent and quick thinking (and quite honestly, this year’s Mexican line-up did not show out). 

   Besides Messi’s determination throughout the match, Argentina’s wicked playbook stole the show. Without looking up, Messi passed the ball through two or three Dutch players to Nahuel Molina, whose left foot secured the game’s first of four goals. Argentina knew what game they wanted to play and how to get there. The Netherlands didn’t shy away either. When all seemed lost, striker Wout Weghorst scored the equalizer that led the Dutch and Argentines in extra time with 2-2. Eventually, when penalty shots came around, it was Argentina who came out victorious with stunning shots, and the Netherlands’ goalie always missing a potential block. 

   The quarter-finals saw another two teams that were determined to give it their all: Croatia and Brazil. Both headed into extra time after they were left scoreless. That’s until Neymar scored the first goal of the game and a definitive one for his career, making him tied with Brazilian legend Pele, with 77 goals in international matches. Croatia’s Bruno Petkovic scored the equalizer soon after. Undeniably, the two teams didn’t outcompete or outplay the other. It was simply the luck of the penalty kick draw, which ultimately favored the Croatians. 

   The same couldn’t be said for the match between England and France, where the reigning Coupe Du Monde champions of 2018 did not let the match go as far as extra time. France’s Aurélien Tchouaméni kicked the cleanest, no-nonsense shots I’ve ever witnessed. The man saw an opening and went for it, securing the match’s first goal. England followed with an equalizer by Harry Kane, who secured a penalty shot. But France’s Olivier Giroud planted a beautiful second shot through the English goalie’s reach. 

   Though every team who made it this far into the semi-finals fought tooth and nail, it’s been surreal putting it against the backdrop of a much more serious, non-adrenaline rushing context. 

   Let’s not forget – leading up to this year’s games, documentaries surrounding the corruption committed by FIFA leaders, the deaths of migrant workers that were selfishly sacrificed for Qatar to physically hold the FIFA games, and much more have left many wondering: Does our human need for entertainment and attention have no limits? 

   This cloud that loomed over the World Cup’s soccer fields has influenced my viewing of the games and how I view the role that politics plays in all entities that have some form of authority and money. 

    As the quarterfinals were near, I recollected the exposés that peeled back the layers of FIFA. Taking us back to 2012, when Russia and Qatar won their bids for hosting the World Cup in 2018 and 2022, respectively, many other bidders, like the United States and England, called BS. One could argue those who didn’t land hosting powers were sore about losing and unwilling to accept that it was high time for the games to be held outside of the “Western bubble.” Although, that statement would seemingly ignore the fact that this year’s current host, Qatar, didn’t have the physical capacity in 2012 to host the World Cup. 

   For perspective, the nation is roughly 20% smaller than the state of Connecticut and needed to build seven stadiums, more hotels to host the over one million visiting FIFA fans, and expand its highways in 10 years, according to NPR. Who got the heavy work done? Migrants. Were they at least paid decently? No, they weren’t. Decent housing and healthcare? Nope – but is it surprising? 

   Though FIFA and Qatari officials initially stated three died from the construction of the new infrastructure and another 37 workers died of other non-related causes, an investigation from The Guardian and human rights groups found otherwise. Over 6,500 migrant workers from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and other countries, died from workplace accidents, the intense heat they worked in regularly, suicide, and other circumstances related to the delivery of FIFA-standard infrastructure. 

   As one of the nations that were considered the underdogs in the World Cup, it’s not hard to imagine why Qatar wouldn’t have funneled cash and negotiations with FIFA and their allies if they had the means to do so. It also meant bringing global attention to their nation. FIFA is predicted to bring in five billion viewers globally to see this year’s matches. A number that isn’t far-fetched given that the last World Cup run in Russia had a record-high 3.572 billion audience.  

   With more eyes seemingly glued on screens this World Cup season, it may be difficult to remember how the upcoming finals and exciting, unpredictable moments can be played out in the first place. But try your best, anyway. I did, and let me tell you, it got me thinking.