Closing Thoughts On The FIFA World Cup 2022

Closing Thoughts On The FIFA World Cup 2022
The biggest sporting event in the world has ended. The grand finale was played on Sunday, 18 December 2022, at Lusail Stadium in Qatar, where Argentina faced France in the FIFA World Cup final which the Argentinians won through deciding penalties (4-2). The score was tied 2-2 at the end of regular time and 3-3 in overtime, making it possibly the most exciting final in FIFA World Cup history. The penalty shootout gave “football” fans worldwide a cause to cheer or express deep sorrow depending on which team they supported.

The world calls this game “football” while we here in America continue to call it “soccer” because we dare to be different. Logic does dictate that the rest of the world is correct, and we are not. Our NFL game of “football” requires the foot to touch the ball probably less than 1% of the time – and the hands to be used during the rest of the game. In FIFA football, only the goalie is allowed to touch the ball with his hands, or else the players can do so only when they throw the ball usually from outside the field. Use of the foot completely dominates the game of “soccer” with an occasional allowable use of the head. A handball here on the other hand can cost you a penalty and sometimes the game.

South Asians in general are not big football fans and do not pursue the game with the same devotion that they do cricket or field hockey. But there are certain exceptions. The Baloch and southern Pashtuns in Pakistan and the Bengalis in Bangladesh and West Bengal are both pretty devoted to the game and can be quite fanatical about it. Some Baloch players played professionally for teams in the East pre-1971. Just to share the passion there, the first time that this writer personally experienced the effects of tear gas was during and after a football game at Dhaka Stadium in (then) East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) during the late 1960s. The crowd went wild after a referee gave a controversial decision on a goal. They attacked the field and the police had to resort to a lathi charge and fire teargas shells. We ran towards the nearest exit, and I remember crying all the way home with eyes stinging from the gas.

Pakistanis, at least till recently, have not shown great talent for the game. One Pashtun player for Pakistan did play for the local team here in Sacramento a few years ago. When we moved back to Karachi in the 1970s, I had the opportunity to watch the final of an RCD Cup between Iran and Turkey at a field on Kashmir Road. Earlier, Iran had beaten the Pakistani football team 7-0 and Turkey by 11-0 (or something like that). But the main attraction for us then was the physical presence of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. That was the first and last time that I saw him in person (close up) and listened to his superb oratory.
There were no ugly law-and-order incidents during this world cup - and who knows if the no-alcohol policy will be continued by FIFA in the next one in 2026?

The Makrani-Baloch of Pakistan, especially the residents of Lyari-Karachi, are devoted football fans. Their favourite team has been Brazil ever since the Great Pele played the game. Their next favourite may possibly be Argentina, but still they were heart-broken when Brazil lost to Croatia (also a penalty shootout) in the Quarterfinals of this world cup on December 9th.

Beyond Pakistan, this cup kept the attention of fans far beyond Europe and South America. This time, Africans, Muslims and the Arab world had a great presence in this tournament till the very end. Who would have guessed that Argentina, which ended up winning the cup, would lose its match to Saudi Arabia (2-1) during their first game on November 22nd. That surprise sure woke up many fans around the globe. And then there was the Cinderella story of Morocco, the only African team to ever get into the Semi-Finals. They ended up placing 4th in the tournament after losing to Croatia on the 17th of December. But what a run they had in this cup! For them to make it to the semis was an amazing achievement, one which kept Africans, Arabs and Muslims worldwide focused on this competition until their 2-0 loss to France on the 14th of December.

After the final four played, the favourites Argentina and France reached the tournament final. There was no surprise there, as France were the defending FIFA World Cup champions and Argentina had Lionel Messi. And once these two teams took to the field, it appeared that Argentina would run away with the game as the were leading 2-0 in the first 36 minutes. But then the French miracle happened in the shape of Kylian Mbappé who scored twice to even the game at around the 79th and 81-minute mark. Mbappé went on to score a hattrick in the world cup and as some agree, he almost overshadowed the Great Messi in this game. But in the end victory was achieved by the Argentinians and they deserve our congratulations.

The other victory in this cup was achieved by host country Qatar by a successful international showing of Arab and Muslim soft power. It was great to see some image normalisation here while they had the world’s attention. Banning alcohol in the stadiums did not cause any major setbacks and the policy was even praised by some visiting women spectators. There were no ugly law-and-order incidents during this world cup - and who knows if the no-alcohol policy will be continued by FIFA in the next one in 2026?

To conclude, a salute is also in order to the guest workers from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, and Sri Lanka on their role in building the physical edifice (literally) on which this world cup was played. Their sacrifices cannot be ignored. And let us not forget the Pakistanis for one more contribution. We were everywhere because it has been widely reported that we made the ball.