It is all over. The 2022 edition of the premier global football showcase, which the Middle Eastern nation of Qatar had the honour of hosting, has come to an end.
It was a memorable affair which witnessed a few games rightfully earn the status of instant classics.
Argentina’s victory translates to a reordering of the football hierarchy, but there are also a handful of lessons to take away from the overall experience.
1. Lionel Messi is the undisputed GOAT, but Kylian Mbappe is set to define his generation.
For over a decade, fans have engaged in a heated, inconclusive debate over who is the better football player Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.
This inquiry took an all-time dimension in the late 2010s and appeared to be settled when Cristiano Ronaldo inspired Portugal to Euro and Nations League triumphs in 2016 and 2019, respectively. However, the early 2020s featured an immense comeback from Lionel Messi, which culminated in him leading Argentina to a FIFA World Cup triumph in December 2022.
Cristiano Ronaldo was unlucky in five attempts to achieve the same and is unlikely to feature at the 2026 World Cup due to age. By implication, Messi’s triumph may just have put the debate to bed once and for all.
However, Kylian Mbappe is well on course to define his generation. A 2018 World Cup champion, he finished the 2022 campaign as the top scorer and has an outrageous 12 World Cup goals to his credit at just age 23. He scored a hat-trick in Sunday’s thrilling final and may just go on to produce more stellar performances at the next two or three World Cups.
Kylian Mbappe may be yet to win the UEFA Champions League, the Ballon D’Or or a FIFA The Best Award, but it is only a matter of time.
2. The Arab and Asian Tigers are ready
The world is scarcely oblivious to the potential of the Middle East and the Asian continent in general, particularly in terms of technological strides and the former’s financial strengths. Notwithstanding, millions were treated to reminders in that regard, as well as flashes of football brilliance.
Interestingly, the trend began with eventual champions Argentina being outplayed by and losing 2-1 to Saudi Arabia in the opening Group C encounter. It cast doubts over the favourites status of Argentina and served as the first indication that a special World Cup was imminent. Subsequently, Iran followed up with a 2-0 victory over European outfit Wales and South Korea triumphed over favourites Portugal.
Saudi Arabia, Iran and South Korea failed to build on their momentum, but Japan and Morocco took theirs to more interesting levels.
Very few people would have foreseen Japan topping a World Cup group with European heavyweights Spain and Germany, if at all anyone, but they did. They came from behind to defeat Germany 2-1 in their opening Group E encounter and defeated Spain with the same scoreline in the final group game. Japan squared off against Croatia in the Round of 16 and drew first blood, but Croatia equalised and dragged out the game to penalties—just where the latter needed the former.
Tunisia endured an underwhelming campaign but defeated a fringe France side 1-0 in the final Group D encounter. Indeed, while the Atlas Lions of Morocco may not be Tigers in the obvious sense, they were the Arab World’s biggest pride and joy in the tournament. Topping a group with Croatia and Belgium, edging past Spain and Portugal in the Round of 16 and Quarter Finals respectively, as well as a respectable performance in their Semi-Final defeat to France.
Morocco may have fallen to Croatia in the Third Place Playoff, but they have won the hearts of millions and inspired the Arab World and the African continent. The first Arab/African side to feature in a FIFA World Cup Semi-Final? Not a mean feat, by any means.
Finally, Qatar proved their Arab/Asian mettle—albeit off the pitch as the hosts, as their actual performance left a lot to be desired. The main exhibit in this regard is Sunday’s Closing Ceremony, which was an undeniably dazzling display buoyed by impressive technology. As an aside, Nigerian Afrobeats star Davido also graced the occasion.
3. Brazil may need more than a golden generation.
2022 made it exactly two decades since the Seleção of Brazil clinched the FIFA World Cup trophy for a record fifth time in Korea/Japan in 2002. The Seleção have pushed on for a sixth, coming close in Semi-Final appearances in 2006 and in 2014 as the hosts, but the golden delight has remained elusive.
The Brazil squad for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar was widely touted to be the most formidable. Put differently, it was star-studded and no playing position was bereft of quality. Their line-up for their Quarter-Final fixture against Croatia notably featured Liverpool’s Alisson in goal, Chelsea’s Thiago Silva and Paris Saint-Germain’s Marquinhos in central defence, Manchester United’s Casemiro in defensive midfield, as well as Real Madrid’s Vinícius Júnior and Paris Saint-Germain’s Neymar up front. Sadly, Croatia was able to hold on for a penalty shootout where they dispatched the Seleção.
It was an anticlimactic defeat, following triumphs against Serbia and Switzerland in the group stage, as well as South Korea in the Round of 16. It begs the question of what more Brazil needs to do to taste global glory again. A golden generation is an obvious answer, but the precedent has proved that such is not absolute. Spain was able to leverage its golden generation for a World Cup triumph in 2010, flanked by Euro triumphs in 2008 and 2012. However, Belgium was not so lucky at the 2014 and 2018 editions of the World Cup.
All in all, Brazil may need more than a golden generation. Maybe it is a matter of timing, and 2026 may just be their year. Maybe not.
Speaking of the 2026 World Cup, it would be co-hosted by Canada, Mexico and the United States. It would feature 48 countries as opposed to 32, and only time would tell whether it would live up to the thrills of Qatar 2022.