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Ronaldo, Messi era over, upset galore… 5 things we learned from World Cup first round

Ronaldo, Messi era over, upset galore… 5 things we learned from World Cup first round
December 03
20:57 2022

The group stage of Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup has been completed with surprise wins and defeats, with no side boasting of a 100% record, a first since 1994. While big teams have been knocked out and Qatar continues to dazzle with fireworks after 47 matches, we review some lessons learned so far in the first World Cup hosted by an Arab nation.

World Cup of upsets

It began with Saudi Arabia’s remarkable 2-1 win over Argentina on the third day of the tournament and other jaw-dropping results followed. Japan repeated the trick twice against Germany and Spain while South Korea produced a similar scoreline in their surprise win over Portugal to progress into the Round of 16.

African countries produced arguably the biggest upsets, with Cameroon bagging a historic 1-0 win over Brazil after Tunisia had humbled France, and Morocco tore Belgium’s golden generation apart.

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The results had fans and pundits on the edge of their seats, unable to predict powerhouses steamrolling supposed minnows, with the notion that more upsets could still be produced in the knockout phases.

Ronaldo, Messi decline

We have watched both players with sheer joy and amazement for nearly two decades and they command an unrivalled rivalry on and off the pitch among fans. However, this World Cup is a final confirmation that these wily-aged stars are a shadow of their industrious past.

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Ronaldo, at 37, only waits for the finished product in the box while 35-year-old Lionel Messi can do little if not given the opportunity to strike the ball from a central position on the edge of the penalty area.

Both have benefitted from dubious penalties and it is obvious to neutrals that Ronaldo has seen better days while Messi is only being driven by his quest for World Cup glory to cement his legacy back home.

Although it would be a fairytale ending to have one of these two lift the World Cup, retirement appears to be the next logical career move.

Africa, Asia challenging powerhouses

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While the upsets spark excitement and unbelievable joy for fans of countries like Japan, South Korea, Cameroon, Tunisia, the level of performance however predicts this could be the norm in future World Cups.

Senegal stood tall against the Netherlands for over 80 minutes before errors robbed them of a deserved draw while Morocco produced a convincing display against Belgium.

These, including Cameroon’s monumental victory over Brazil, were no smash-and-grab wins but tactically-sound plans previously unseen in countries from both continents.

No wasted time, really

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Pierluigi Collina, chairman of FIFA’s referees’ committee, had hinted in April that the referees would be stricter with time wasted to simulation and goal celebrations during matches, and this decision has done the trick, coupled with the help of the video assistant referee (VAR) system that continues to be an eagle eye during proceedings.

The result is more time spent playing actual football and the gradual natural death of simulation — except, of course, you are Sergio Busquets.

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This has brought with it lengthy added time – the first four matches of the tournament saw over ten minutes of added time – that could prove crucial to teams chasing the game. Football wins. 

Football over politics

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On the eve of the World Cup, Gianni Infantino, FIFA president, went into a press conference that turned into a monologue where he defended the host nation’s human rights record and chided the West over its hypocrisy.

FIFA, the world football governing body, has preached non-politicisation of football for years but the Zurich-based body shattered its own glass house and countries like Germany and England nearly seized the opportunity to promote LGBTQ in a religious nation.

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Germany went further with a political team photo before matches but their ouster in the group stage for the second consecutive World Cup was a louder statement to fans. Football is the winner so far with upsets, tricks, goals and fanfare remaining the centre of attraction. Long may it continue.

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