I was one among the three billion fans who sat glued to the TV to watch the football World Cup.
For a man approaching 94 years of age, excitement is a rarity. From November 20th to December 18th, a boyish enthusiasm took over. I was one among the three billion fans who sat glued to the TV to watch the football World Cup.
The first shock was Saudi Arabia defeating Argentina. Lionel Messi looked more than bewildered. Saudi Arabia beating Argentina! No. It could not be real. But it was. The Crown Prince and Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia presented Bentley cars to each Saudi player. Soon Germany, Belgium, Brazil, England were out. Little known African countries became giant killers. Morocco played with amazing skill. They had their opponents in a daze. Africa had arrived on the football big league. Doha’s Lusail Stadium did not have a vacant seat. Fans were left breathless.
What was the great Cristiano Ronaldo doing? He was not in the field till halftime. His arrival on the wonderfully manicured green turf put some pep into the Portuguese team. He even scored a penalty goal. Here was the second best footballer in the world fumbling. He had, a few days before the World Cup began, left the Manchester team under unpleasant circumstances. As Cristiano’s game deteriorated, Messi’s picked up. Soon Portugal was out of the World Cup. Ronaldo’s grief was all too visible.
From the first day I had backed France. The country had won the Cup four years ago.
Argentina and France met in the final. The former was two goals ahead when the French wizards Kylian Mbappe scored two stunning goals. Two-all. In the 30 minutes extra time, no goals were scored.
Penalty time. Mbappe scored the first goal. His class was all too evident. His pace is stunning. He suddenly appears from nowhere, sending the football into the goal. Speed, over 38 kilometres an hour! Mbappe was heartbroken when his two teammates made a mess by missing two penalty goals. Argentina won the World Cup. Even President Emmanuel Macron could not console Mbappe. I too was very disappointed. But the better side won.
A few words about the organisers. Qatar excelled itself. Everything went like clockwork. No misbehaviour in stands, none in the hotels and hostels.
For the tourists too life was a ball but discipline was not flouted. Qatar is not a democracy. You step out of line, you get it in the neck.
When the World Cup was allotted to Qatar the widespread reaction was not in favour. Doha proved them wrong.
The Hindustan Times of December 20 selected the best XI of the 2022 World Cup.
Goalkeeper: Emiliano Martinez from Argentina. Without him, it is unlikely Argentina would have won the World Cup. He is the best goalkeeper in the world.
Left Back: Theo Hernandez, France: He was called to replace his brother, who suffered an injury. Theo did not let the side down.
Central Midfield: Sofyan Amrabat, Morocco. The most impressive skill he brings to the game is his ability to dictate the pace of the game.
Left Winger: Kylian Mbappe, France. The future is his. Once Messi has retired and Ronaldo too, Mbappe will undoubtedly be the best player in the game. He is 23 years of age. Messi is nearing 36, Ronaldo is 37.
Attacking Midfield: Lionel Messi, Argentina. By winning the World Cup he is as of now the greatest footballer of all time.
Right Back: Achraf Hakimi, Morocco. He was solid at the back as well as effective going forward.
Centre Back: Cristian Romero. At 24, he can only improve. Takes pressure and with confidence.
Centre Back: Josko Gvardiol, Croatia. He is only 20. Top clubs in Europe have their eyes on him.
Centre Midfield: Luca Modric, Croatia. Age 37. Captain of the team. His last World Cup.
Right Winger: Antoine Griezmann, France. He is 37. Did very well in this World Cup. Unlikely to play in 2026.
Striker: Julian Alvarez, Argentina. Age 22. His goal against Croatia when he ran from almost the halfway line will be remembered for years to come.