Seven days into Qatar 2022 and we’ve already had some classic goals, shock upsets and a number of controversies, with football’s premier competition having well and truly taken over the sporting news cycle and all eyes now on the tiny Gulf state.
With an incredible 27 of the scheduled 64 games having already taken place in a frantic first week of World Cup action, here are five things we’ve learned so far.
The host nation broke some unwanted records
After a glitzy opening ceremony, Qatar’s footballers looked like they were still dazzled by the lights during a nightmare 2-0 defeat to Ecuador, becoming the first host nation to lose their opening game.
Things didn’t get much better for the hosts in their second game, with another defeat to Senegal condemning them to a first-round exit before the first week was even complete – the quickest exit for a host nation in World Cup history.
Although they did manage their first ever goal in a World Cup finals tournament, the Qataris failed to have a shot on target until the second half of their second game, and defensively looked chaotic at best.
With controversy surrounding Qatar prior to the event, their footballers did little to end the misery, failing to justify their first finals appearance.
Asian teams can compete with the best
The week didn’t start well for Asian football, with Iran’s 6-2 trouncing by England following hot on the heels of Qatar’s nightmare start.
That all changed Tuesday, when Saudi Arabia provided the shock of the tournament to date with their astonishing 2-1 victory over Argentina.
Japan then took up the mantle for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) with an improbable 2-1 defeat of Germany the following day, and the Socceroos completed a hat-trick of Asian victories with their heroic 1-0 win against Tunisia.
While we are still a long way from an Asian country actually winning a World Cup, the performance of AFC teams in this first week has been a boost to football in our region.
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A new generation is on the rise
One of the great things about any World Cup is seeing exciting young stars announce their arrival on the world stage, and this tournament is no exception.
While much of the build-up to Qatar 2022 was around aging superstars Ronaldo, Neymar and Messi (more about him later), the youngsters have crashed the party in spectacular fashion this week.
England’s Jude Bellingham (19) and Bukayo Saka (21) shared 3 goals between them in the Three Lions thrashing of Iran, and Netherlands’ winger Cody Gakpo (23) has been the standout in his team’s impressive start.
One of the goals of the tournament to date came from Spanish teenager Gavi (18), whose sublime volley against Costa Rica showcased his extraordinary technical ability at such a young age. His 20-year-old midfield counterpart Pedri has been equally as impressive for La Roja.
Add France’s Kylian Mbappe to the list – still only 23 himself and arguably the player of the tournament so far – and it’s clear that the next generation are already in the building, ready to take over the throne from their celebrated elders.
Messi can still be dominant on the International stage
After Argentina’s humiliating defeat to Saudi Arabia on Day 3, you could be forgiven for thinking Messi’s star was waning.
While he is no longer able to beat half a team with the mazy dribbles he produced in his prime, the little maestro was pivotal in hauling his side across the line in their critical win over Mexico three days later.
With the weight of a nation on his shoulders in a game the Argentinians had to win, it was Messi who broke the resolve of the Mexicans, scoring the crucial opening goal in the 2-0 victory.
Despite being fouled more than any other player, he was the driving force behind Argentina’s victory, keeping their (and his) hopes off World Cup glory alive for another week at least.
He may be ageing, but he’s still a game changer, even at 35.
Never write off the Germans
After their disastrous 2-1 defeat to Japan in their opening game – despite having 74% possession and nine shots on target to the Japanese’ four – it was looking ominous for Germany, especially with the impressive Spanish up next.
Down 1-0 with just seven minutes remaining in that second game overnight, where defeat would mean effective elimination, the Germans found a way back from the brink.
The unlikely scorer of their 83rd minute equaliser was 29-year-old journeyman centre forward Niklas Fullkrug, who only made his debut in two weeks ago but gave his team a focal point in attack that they were sorely lacking until his 70th minute arrival.
With Costa Rica sensationally beating Japan in Group E’s other game earlier in the evening, Germany can still qualify for the second round if they beat Costa Rica on Friday morning, providing Spain beat Japan in their final game.
Anything is possible in what has been an unpredictable group, which has mirrored the tournament as a whole with its twists and turns, but don’t bet against the Germans making it through to the knockout stage, where their tournament know-how will surely come to the fore.
No doubt the coming week in Qatar will continue to surprise and entertain in equal measure, and the story of this World Cup is a long way from being told, with the first week rarely providing the tournament’s defining moment.
One thing the 2022 edition seems certain to provide more of is unpredictability, with some shock departures likely in the next seven days.
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