By Hayden Krzyzanowski
The 2022 World Cup will leave strong memories, not only for all the controversy surrounding it but the major upsets that the tournament held. There were many iconic moments, including Messi nearing 100 goals for Argentina, but we simply have to look back at where it all began and how it all transpired. The Qatar World Cup, where we witnessed one of the great fairytale stories and many giants fall to final day drama. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of the group stage and then how it all fell into place for the knockouts and the eventual winners.
Group A: Probably the biggest surprise of the tournament was not seeing Sadio Mane for Senegal as he pulled out due to an injury just days before the tournament’s kickoff. The Netherlands cruised to the top spot pretty cleanly, although playing some rough football to secure points. Senegal fought for every point they were given and was very lucky to sneak through over a really good-looking Ecuadorian side. Either side could have snuck into that final spot, but a turn of results kept Senegal in that second spot. Qatar was the outlier of the group as predicted, but also came as a mini shock to the footballing community as they are the first-ever host to be knocked out in the group stages but also lose all three of their matches. A disappointing World Cup for them, but this group didn’t have too many surprises.
Group B: The group the nation had its eyes on for two weeks. England, USA, Iran, and Wales. USA was one of the youngest teams coming into this tournament, intrusting many newer faces such as Brenden Aaronson, Tyler Adams, and Yunus Musah to carry this team into the knockouts. Iran and Wales were the outlying factors to how the United States would get into the group stages. England was a pretty clear favorite to finish in the top spot so that wasn’t the big question. The USA started with an unlucky draw to start their group and had to scrap it out for the other two matches. They pulled a convincing draw against England, which had many large faces in football questioning who was the best team in the group. A 1-0 win over Iran got the USA past the group stages with their across-the-pond neighbors. Not too many crazy surprises, but some great games to watch in their entirety.
Group C: This one didn’t surprise many after the initial squads were announced. Argentina was a clear favorite to make it through with a group of Mexico, Poland, and Saudi Arabia. Mexico was the clear standout and surprised many with how they performed. The biggest upset has to go to Saudi Arabia after knocking Argentina off their pedestal for a brief moment, beating them 2-1 in their opening match. Overall, Argentina and Poland snuck into the knockouts as Mexico and Saudi Arabia crashed out due to quality in the team. Everyone was disappointed to see Mexico drop so early, majorily for their goalkeeper Guillermo “Memo” Ochoa as it was his last adventure with the Mexico national team being the ripe age of 39. Argentina had the momentum overall coming out of the group stages to perform as this is Messi’s last World Cup. The entire team and country wanted this team to win purely for him.
Group D: In comparison to my prediction just over a month ago, I had France dropping out due to the “World Cup curse”. I made a fatal mistake as I frequently forget the depth of this French team. They lost 6 key players to their lineup and still perform as if they are all still there. It is truly unreal how good this team is, but the big surprise from this group was Denmark’s performance. A team of great quality led by Christian Eriksen hit all-time lows finishing bottom of the group which contained Tunisia and Australia. France and Australia make it out with six points each, but a very disappointing group overall. Shoutout to Australia for putting a great shift in while facing the low standards all around the world. They have put themselves on the bigger scope of things in terms of sport, but their performance showed that they aren’t just some joke of a league, there is some quality to be looked at. Other than that, no real standouts with the only upset being Denmark.
Group E: Arguably the most exciting group from the group stages with Spain, Japan, Germany, and Costa Rica. This set of games were your average games, nothing too crazy outside of Japan being the dark horse in this tournament. Beating Spain and Germany, they got their chance into the knockouts the hard way. The final game of the group stages saw for a whole three minutes Japan AND Costa Rica go through, but ultimately Germany beat Costa Rica and set the table to a standstill. Spain looked scary on the counter due to their pace and agility through the midfield, Germany had the midfield locked down, but everything else didn’t fall into place, and Costa Rica has always been one of those five at-the-back teams at all times. This was a great group to keep your eye on and one of those that opened your eyes to show that superpowers aren’t invincible.
Group F: The expectations were enormous for all teams involved here. Everyone expected Belgium to go through with their firepower up front and expected Canada to do more than they did. Morocco, the underdog of the group, stunned everyone and won it whilst setting in motion the fairytale run of the tournament. Croatia is one of those teams that could have done well or could have fallen flat, similar to Belgium. Their aging team from the 2018 World Cup was one of the primary concerns surrounding them. The 37-year-old Luka Modric rolled back the years and showcased that he still has it, regardless of this most likely being his last World Cup. I was interested to see how Canada did overall, and they didn’t do much. There were a couple of standout players such as Atiba Hutchinson and Alistair Johnston, who looked like they wanted to be there, but everyone else just stood still and became point fodder. Hoping for more out of Canada when the World Cup comes to North America in 2026.
Group G: This one was a toss-up for the second spot. Brazil had a clear shot at the top spot as it was theirs to lose. Switzerland has a strong team overall, but I was concerned about their attacking prowess. They are lacking up front and need their talent to come through soon or their chances of the next World Cup are in jeopardy. Serbia has a similar problem, just on the other end of the field in their defense. The majority are hitting that age where doing 60 games a season just isn’t possible. Talent pools for both the Swiss and the Serbians are rather small so it’s having them rely on the hope that great talent will fall out of there. Cameroon looked average at best against all the other sides in their group. No real standouts, especially after Andre Onana was sent home after the opening match of the group stage. Brazil on the other hand was able to use the majority of their squad in the group stage due to the dominance they had throughout the first two matches. They lost their third one, which put their top spot in jeopardy for a few fleeting minutes, but they retained the top spot and moved into the knockouts. A few injuries hindered them from doing the top work in the group, but the job was still done.
Group H: The group that was argued as the group of death. Which, at the end of the day, nearly was. Many football fans worldwide knew Portugal was almost a guaranteed lock for the knockouts, but the final spot was pretty open. All three teams had an equal shot of making it. Uruguay had the strike partnership of Nunez, Cavani, and Suarez all at their disposal. South Korea had Son Heung-Min and Ghana overall had a strong squad. Ghana had the second spot going into the final matchday, but couldn’t hold on as Uruguay dispatched them 2-0. They needed South Korea to draw or lose to sneak into the knockouts, but Portugal fell asleep at the wrong time and couldn’t claw it back in time. Hwang Hee-Chan scored in the 91st minute to put South Korea through. The scenes were unreal and the heartbreak across the Uruguay-Ghana match was felt. Uruguay now looks to a future without Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani as both admitted before the World Cup that this was most likely their last as the 35-year-olds knew the time was coming soon. Ghana looks to their future as well as their talent coming through such as Mohammed Kudus to put them in better positions in the AFCON and World Cup.
Round of 16
Netherlands v USA: This came as a surprise to almost no one. The Dutch simply were better than the USA in every phase of the game. 3-1 was the scoreline with goals from Daley Blind, Denzel Dumfries, and Memphis Depay while Haji Wright got the consolation goal for the United States. Nothing too exciting came from the US, but there was a small argument that the USA midfield overran the Dutch on multiple occasions. Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, and Yunus Musah did what they could to keep up with the power of Denzel Dumfries, Frenkie De Jong, and Daley Blind, but it simply wasn’t enough to keep the attacking power of Memphis Depay and Cody Gakpo quiet. Shoutouts to Antonee “Jedi” Robinson and Sergino Dest for putting in solid shifts throughout the entire tournament for the USA. The future is bright for this USMNT team and don’t be shocked when they come back even better in 2026.
Argentina v Australia: A matchup that wasn’t expected from many. Australia just sneaking in off some bad luck from Denmark and Tunisia. Argentina was the clear favorite and put the Aussies to the sword almost immediately with Messi in the 35th minute. Julian Alvarez doubled Argentina’s lead and an own goal from Enzo Fernandez gave Australia a little bit of hope, but it was Argentina’s game to lose. Australia looked surprised themselves that they made it to the knockouts and Argentina exposed that pretty quickly. Stats don’t normally tell the story of the match, but these ones did. Domination from the Argentines moved them into a matchup against the Netherlands a few days later.
Japan v Croatia: This was a matchup that I was patiently waiting for. Both teams were even at the end of the night, but it was a matter of experience that won the match. Daizen Maeda got Japan on the board in the 43rd minute, but Ivan Perisic responded in the 55th with a header of his own to tie the match for Croatia. A back-and-forth finale finds the score tied after regulation time. Extra time came and left with no solution as the matchup finds itself in penalties. Dominik Livakovic was the hero for Croatia after some goalkeeping heroics as Croatia ran away clear winners on penalties 3-1. Livakovic saved 3 penalties and dispatched the Japanese to move Croatia into the quarters.
Brazil v South Korea: A game over by halftime. Brazil came flying out of the gates with rapid-fire goals from Vinicius Junior and Neymar before the 15th minute. Richarlison and Lucas Paqueta made it 4-0 within 36 minutes of play and sealed the fate of the Koreans. A consolation goal from Paik Seung-Ho gave the Koreans something to cheer about. It was such a one-sided game that Brazil subbed in their third-string goalkeeper Weverton to say he participated in the World Cup in the case they won the entire tournament. A dominant performance gave Brazil the lift they needed before facing Croatia in the quarter-finals. They knew that Croatia ran for 120 minutes and were going to be tired a few days later, so the game fell into their lap as it was theirs to lose.
England v Senegal: England had the world watching them as their squad was strong enough to secure victory against Senegal. Jordan Henderson broke the deadlock with a strike in the 38th minute. Harry Kane added a second just before halftime and it was smooth sailing from there. Bukayo Saka added a 3rd in the 57th minute to cruise England to victory. Not to discredit Senegal here, they have a strong squad that will only get better as the years go on as it was a relatively young squad they brought to Qatar. England’s quality overall was the deciding factor in who was going to take this game and walk into the quarter-finals. Jude Bellingham for England was showing large promise with his performances that he alongside Declan Rice are the future of England’s midfield. Jude and Declan ran the midfield confidently alongside Mason Mount, James Maddison, and Kalvin Phillips all will be a part of the setup in 2026.
France v Poland: France being the reigning champions had some pressure applied throughout the knockout stages. They were expected to perform without many of their major stars and it looked like they had them out there anyway. Olivier Giroud opened the scoring against Poland in the 44th minute. Poland came out trying to put a stop to France’s attack at any cost necessary, but Kylian Mbappe doubled France’s lead in the 74th minute to put the sword to Poland. Mbappe had the finishing blow in the 91st minute to get his second of the game and put France through to the quarter-finals. The match finished 3-1 after Robert Lewandowski put a consolation goal on the board through a penalty. Disappointment for Lewandowski as it may be his last World Cup too, but getting his country to the knockout stages is still something to be proud of at the end of the day. France ended up having to face England in the quarter-finals which would eventually be viewed as whoever won that match would go to the final…
Morocco v Spain: Widely considered the upset of the round, Spain didn’t do enough to justify making it to the quarter-finals. The regulation time came around and passed just as quickly. Spain had every opportunity in the world to score, but Yassine Bounou had other ideas. Spain controlled the ball for 77% of the game, which included 926 passes, and still couldn’t find the back of the net. Extra time went by just as fast and penalties were looming. Spain was still the favorite but walked out of Education City Stadium as the losers. Bounou kept every ball out of the back of the net for Morocco, sending them to the quarter-finals. Sabiri and Ziyech buried their penalties as Achraf Hakimi did a panenka penalty to seal the deal for Spain. Morocco was the fully deserved winner at the end of the evening and the shock from the football community was crazy. Moving into the quarter-finals as an African nation was something that doesn’t happen all so often, but their story was still being written.
Portugal v Switzerland: The final matchup in the Round of 16 saw 7 goals get scored across both teams, even if 6 of them were for Portugal. News broke early that Cristiano Ronaldo was not starting and it made the entire community ask the question “Would that decision pay off?” Well, it did. Goncalo Ramos. Remember the name of the Portuguese striker who replaced Ronaldo by scoring a hat-trick in his knockout debut. The 21-year-old put Portugal through into the quarter-finals in dramatic fashion. Pepe, Raphael Guerrero, and Rafael Leao also joined in to put Switzerland to bed. Manuel Akanji gave Switzerland some hope in the 58th minute, but by then, it was 4-1. Portugal was then expected to dominate their next opponents in Morocco if they can dismantle the powerful Swiss side with ease. That was all to be determined, but the question between when Portugal played again was if Ronaldo was to make it into the starting XI for Morocco. It would be answered in a few short days.
Netherlands v Argentina: Argentina knew this was a must-win game against the Netherlands and had to throw their heart and soul into it. Nahuel Molina opens the scoring for Argentina in the 35th minute with more Lionel Messi magic for the assist. Messi adds to his scoring tally in the 73rd minute with a well-dispatched penalty to make it 2-0. On comes Wout Weghorst for the Netherlands who gave the Netherlands the push to get this game into extra time. He scored in the 83rd minute and the 90th+11 to tie it up. This is when the game started to pull fans in different directions. Extra time ended 2-2 so penalties were next. Emiliano Martinez for Argentina didn’t mess around as he saved the first two penalties to give Argentina the advantage. Leo Messi and Leandro Paredes put theirs in for a 2-0 lead. The Netherlands respond strongly making it 3-2 and up steps the young 22-year-old midfielder from Benfica, Enzo Fernandez, who misses and gives the dutch a glimpse of hope. Luuk de Jong steps up and ties it at 3, but with that being the 5th penalty, Lautaro Martinez just had to put his in the net to win the match. Lautaro slots it home and brings Argentina to the semi-finals. A heartstring-tugging match ends in an Argentina victory as they march on to face either Croatia or Brazil.
Croatia v Brazil: The Brazilians, currently ranked #1 in the FIFA world rankings, had the odds in their favor as they were the favorites to win the whole tournament. As regulation time wore on, both teams weren’t able to find a breakthrough so we walk into extra time with the score at 0-0. Just as extra time was added in the first half of extra time, Neymar finds the opener in the 105th+1 minute. They send themselves into a frenzy before the potential final 15 minutes of this quarter-final action. Croatia went ahead and equalized through Bruno Petkovic in the 117th minute. This led to Croatia’s 4th penalty shoutout in 2 World Cups. Dominik Livakovic stepped up for his country again as he saved Rodrygo’s penalty to begin the shootout. It is the only penalty saved as Croatia goes perfect and Brazil’s Marquinhos hits the post on his penalty, sending Croatia into the semi-finals for a second year running. Heartbreak for all of Brazil as they played a great game, but fell short when they truly needed it. A Croatia v Argentina semi-final had a lot of buzz surrounding it as it could be one of the games of the tournament.
England v France: Both teams came with a point to prove. One wants to bring it home and the other wants to keep it home. France came out firing from the get-go, getting one early from Aurelien Tchouameni in the 17th minute. France dominated for the rest of the first half as England tries to get something on the board but can’t seem to get it right. It starts better as England gets a penalty and Harry Kane dispatches it well, tying the game 1-1. It was fairly quiet until Olivier Giroud strikes for France’s second to put them in front in the 78th minute. England needed something to give them the chance to tie it. They get a penalty in the 84th minute, Harry Kane steps up to deliver yet another blow to France. But something felt off, and Kane skied this penalty to Mars. It ended up being the decisive blow that killed off England and put France into the semi-finals to face one of Portugal or Morocco. No more “It’s coming home” for England for at least a year and a half as Euro 2024 comes soon.
Morocco v Portugal: The game that shook the football world to its core. Morocco had some of the lowest odds to beat this Portugal team that just dispatched Switzerland 6-1. Yassine Bounou says he wasn’t done showing that he is one of the better goalkeepers in the world, shutting out yet another top-10 team. Morocco opens the scoring in the 42nd minute with Youssef En-Nesyri’s header, which stunned Portugal. Some excellent defensive displays gave Morocco the chance it needed and that was all she wrote. Cristiano Ronaldo’s last World Cup match ends in a loss to the first African country to make it to the Semi-Finals. Morocco ended the game with 27% possession and only completed 176 passes. The lowest amount of possession in the World Cup whilst still winning is simply unreal from a football fan perspective. It also shows that you don’t need to dominate to win games. “Offense wins you games, defense wins you titles.” France looks down upon the small but mighty underdogs in Morocco for their semi-final matchup.
Argentina v Croatia: The stage had been set. At the place where the Final was to be held, the Lusail Iconic Stadium was ready to witness some Lionel Messi magic for what could be the last time. Both Luka Modric and Lionel Messi lead their teams onto the pitch for the battle which would be a game that would end only with one team moving on. Messi opens the scoring after a slip-up from Livakovic which leads to a penalty. Argentina goes 1-0 up before the halftime whistle blows, but there is a twist in the drama. Julian Alvarez doubles Argentina’s lead just before halftime in the 39th minute of action. They carry this 2-0 lead into halftime and the crowd gets the feeling that we will see Messi in the World Cup final. The second half kicks off and Croatia starts lively, but Argentina soaks up the pressure well. Julian Alvarez wasn’t done with his goal-scoring as he puts in a third for Argentina to seal the fate of Croatia. No penalty shoot-out this time can save them from dropping into the third-place matchup. Argentina gets the victory and gives Messi his last chance at a World Cup for his country. We may have also seen the last of Luka Modric in World Cups as the magician ends the game with one of the best performances he could have given.
France v Morocco: Morocco’s fairytale story could yet be extended by one of the biggest upsets in this World Cup by taking down the superpower in France. The Al Bayt Stadium was all ready for liftoff and France got the game underway. Theo Hernandez, the left-back currently playing for A.C. Milan opens the scoring in the 5th minute off a rebound placed by Mbappe. Morocco playing well faces one of the hardest tests of their adventure as star center-back Romain Saiss falls to injury in the 21st minute and from there on out, it was France’s game to win. Back-and-forth play from both teams sees the next goal only occur in the 79th minute. France’s Randal Kolo Muani, brought in to replace the injured Christopher Nkunku just days before the World Cup began, scored and sealed the fate of Morocco to the 3rd place matchup against Croatia. France make it back to the World Cup final after winning it in 2018. The odds play in their favor, but with the strong and balanced Argentina side coming to bat against them, there will be no margin for error as they look to retain their title, being one of only a few teams to do so.
Croatia v Morocco: The preparation game before the final, the one that gets placement for the FIFA world rankings that take place after the World Cup. Croatia versus Morocco was one to see as a European giant takes on the fairytale story. The young Croatian center-back Josko Gvardiol opens the scoring and continues his dominance in this World Cup that sees his value spike and many European clubs come looking at him for their backline in January. Morocco not allowing Croatia room to breathe, equalized two minutes later by Achraf Dari, the center-back from Brest in France. Croatia would show their dominance as a powerhouse by scoring a second through Mislav Orsic and that would close the game for the Croatians. The Moroccans should be applauded for their efforts as many saw the team of the tournament, including Sofyan Amrabat, a dominant midfielder that drove Morocco to this position and was able to claim the 4th place spot. Croatia on their final attempt with Modric, who is hitting the ripe age of 37 years old, was able to claim the 3rd place medals and show that they should always be in the conversation of a high-placed finish. It will be interesting to see how they participate in the next large European competition, which would be EUROS 2024 in Germany.
Argentina v France: The pinnacle of football. Two teammates clash in hopes of claiming the rightful Jules Rimet Trophy at the end. Argentina versus France would go down as one of the best matches of all time. Eighty-nine thousand fans funneled into the Lusail Iconic Stadium to watch Lionel Messi, one of the all-time greats against Kylian Mbappe who is considered the best young talent in world football right now. Argentina opens the game with a Lionel Messi penalty, which was given after a foul on Angel Di Maria. Di Maria wanted in on the action so, in the 36th minute after some excellent passing play from the entire Argentine team, slotted one past Hugo Lloris and gave Argentina that cushion that they so desperately needed. They dominated the entire game… well almost.
France couldn’t find an answer to the solid Argentine team until their first shot in the 70th minute. That’s when the game got flipped on its head. France was able to get a penalty off Argentina as Nicolas Otamendi took down Randal Kolo Muani in the box and it got everyone in the Lusail on their toes. Mbappe dispatches the penalty well, even if Emiliano Martinez gets a hand onto it and the game goes into limbo. Within 60 seconds of the first France goal, Mbappe gets a breakaway and slots a second past Martinez, tying the game at 2.
Worldwide, everyone is stunned. No one, including myself, had a response to what we had witnessed within those couple of minutes. 9 minutes of extra time get added and it’s back-and-forth shooting from both sides. Regulation time ends and the hearts of both sets of fans are racing at an F1 level. The extra time comes up and the first half of extra time goes by quickly as both teams look to be preserving energy for the impending final 15 minutes and a potential penalty shoot-out.
The second half of the extra time begins and Argentina decides it’s time to strike again. A ball is slotted through to Lautaro Martinez and he shoots it at Lloris. The ball falls to Leo Messi and it crosses the line! Argentina has the lead with 12 minutes left of extra time! For the first time since 1986, Argentina has possession of the lead and is within touching distance of the World Cup! But, in the 118th minute, a penalty was given to France after a Gonzalo Montiel handball in the box, giving France the chance to equalize and send both teams to a penalty shootout. He shoots and scores tying the match at 3 with a penalty shootout looming. Extra time ends and it’s a race to who will miss first. The entire world was watching. Lionel Messi, the boy from Rosario, Argentina, had everything on the line. He was knocked out in the Group stage in Japan, the quarter-finals in both Germany and South Africa, finished runner-up in Brazil and was taken out by France in Russia in the round of 16. Everything was on the line and it would end in demise or elation.
France wins the coin toss and will shoot first. Mbappe shoots and scores to open the shootout. Messi steps up next and equalizes 1-1. Kingsley Coman for France steps up and it’s saved by Emi Martinez! The stadium erupts and the shootout has given Argentina the upper hand! Paulo Dybala then steps up for Argentina and scores calmly. 2-1 Argentina with an advantage. Aurelian Tchouameni steps up next and his shot goes wide. Everything is being played into Argentina’s hands. Leandro Paredes dispatches his penalty well. Kolo Muani scores to bring the score to 3-2. If Argentina scores next, they win. Gonzalo Montiel, the substitute intrusted in giving Argentina their 3rd ever World Cup. Steps up and calmly put it into the bottom corner, sending the entire stadium and world into hysterics.
Lionel Messi finally gets his World Cup, football’s top prize, and the last thing he could have won. The game ends, 3-3 but 4-2 on penalties, and Argentina are crowned champions of the world! One of the longest-running debates in football of “Who’s better? Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo?” slowly starts to become one-sided. The entire team lies on the pitch. The 2018 champions have been dethroned.
There are no words to fully describe what took place in Qatar, from massive upsets to devastating news, to elation among fans, supporters, and crowds. The twists and turns this took to reach an eventual conclusion would lay this as one of the better World Cups in recent memory. Awards were given out following the final whistle. Emiliano Martinez wins Goalkeeper of the Tournament, Enzo Fernandez wins Young Player of the Tournament, Kylian Mbappe wins the Golden Boot with 8 goals, and Lionel Messi wins player of the tournament as well as his 5th Man of the Match award, the highest in the tournament’s history. The 2022 Qatar World Cup may go down as one of the most controversial and political World Cups in history, but no one will ever deny how entertaining it was.
One final thing, there was news that broke in the quarter-finals about an American journalist who was well-known within the football community. Grant Wahl had passed while covering the World Cup. His brother announced it on his Instagram in a video that had spun viral so quickly. The official US Soccer account across all platforms was quick to confirm the death and thoughts and prayers were pouring towards Grant and his family. Days later, his confirmed cause of death was an Aortic aneurysm rupture. My thoughts extend to his family and friends during a difficult time and I appreciate the man that brought football to the United States in dramatic fashion, as well as pushed for the women’s game and helped them get a platform on the world stage.