Qatar 2022 was birthed in controversy, drama, geopolitical intrigue and sociocultural turmoil. But once the football kicked off on November 20th, it turned out to be a real treat, culminating on December 18th, in the most exciting, most dramatic grand finale of all time. Argentina beating France will be the concluding story of this World Cup, but the journey that brought us to this end is no less exciting than what the finalists served up at the Lusail Stadium.
Every single match day of this month-long celebration of the beautiful game has left in its wake something of significance – upsets, high drama, tension, controversy, milestones, and sometimes just subtle reminders of the diverse, globalized times we live in.
That we saw only seven goalless games is telling, but even that doesn’t begin to hint at the excitement – the constant tussle between reward and jeopardy – that have characterized these finals.
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Without question, it’s been the most exciting World Cup of my lifetime.
I couldn’t think of a better way charting this exciting journey than to produce a chronological Qatar 2022 diary taking you through each match day and pulling out what most caught my eye on that day. Let’s go!
November 20th 2022
Qatar 0 Ecuador 2
Opening day proved to be one of the most routine days of the finals, but it wasn’t without its share of drama. VAR quickly snuffed out Ecuador’s celebrations to Enner Valencia’s early opener, but the veteran striker had the last laugh, scoring twice to give Qatar the dubious record of first hosts to lose an opening World Cup match.
November 21st 2022
Senegal 0 Holland 2; England 6 Iran 2; USA 1 Wales 1
Holland find a late breakthrough against African champions Senegal in Group A when Cody Gakpo – born in Holland to a Ghanaian father – scores his 4th goal in 12 caps. In Group B, England light up an Iran team perhaps distracted by political turmoil at home. Jude Bellingham, 19, is dominant as he announces his arrival at World Cup level, and Bukayo Saka, 20, scores twice as the youngsters take centre stage. Elsewhere, Timothy Weah, son of the President of Liberia, scored to help the USA to a share of the spoils with Wales…for whom Los Angeles FC star Gareth Bale grabbed the equalizer.
November 22nd 2022
Argentina 1 Saudi Arabia 2; Mexico 0 Poland 0; Denmark 0 Tunisia 0; Australia 1 France 4
Hello! Alarm bells go off when Saudi Arabia come from behind to beat Argentina despite Leo Messi’s early penalty – the first shock of the finals and will prove a portent for what is to follow. Same could be said of Robert Lewandowski’s penalty miss against Mexico – or more accurately Memo Ochoa’s penalty save – although two goalless draws on the same day would prove quite uncharacteristic. Kylian Mbappe’s goal in France’s win is the 23-year old phenom’s fifth in eight World Cup final games.
November 23rd 2022
Germany 1 Japan 2; Costa Rica 0 Spain 7; Morocco 0 Croatia 0; Belgium 1 Canada 0
What!? Japan follow the Saudi cue, coming from behind to turn over the highly favoured, but profligate Germans with two late goals in Group E. Takuma Asano, who plays in Germany (VfL Bochum), grabs the winner – after Ritsu Doan, who also plays in Germany (SC Freiburg) gets the equalizer. Talk about biting the hand. Spain are anything but wasteful though, six different scorers contribute to their seven-goal victory. Canada are bright eyed and bushy tailed, but another penalty save – Thibaut Courtois denies Alphonso Davies – keeps them off the scoresheet and Michy Batshuayi’s goal gives the Belgians all three points.
November 24th 2022
Switzerland 1 Cameroon 0; Brazil 2 Serbia 0; Uruguay 0 Korea 0; Ghana 2 Portugal 3
Richarlison’s late brace finally breaks a resolute Serbia defence, and his spectacular second is an instant goal of the tournament contender. The real drama comes in the thrilling Ghana v Portugal clash where a controversial Ronaldo penalty gives the Europeans the lead, before the Black Stars fight back with Mohammed Kudus starring. They draw level, but only breifly, ultimately losing by the odd goal in five. Elsewhere, Cameroon born Breel Embolo scores to give Switzerland the three points against…Cameroon.
November 25th 2022
Qatar 1 Senegal 3; Holland 1 Ecuador 1; England 0 USA 0; Wales 0 Iran 2
Senegal send the hosts out with a second defeat, but they do score a first ever World Cup goal, the naturalized Ghanaian-born Mohammed Muntari heading home a second half consolation. The real fireworks go off in Group B though, where Wales keeper Wayne Hennessey is sent off with nine minutes left, Rouzbeh Cheshmi opens the scoring for Iran in the 8th minute of added time…and Ramin Rezaeian still finds time to score a second before full time! Blows the group wide open. Elsewhere, former England youth international Yunus Musah – born in New York to Ghanaian parents – stars as USA hold England goalless.
November 26th 2022
Poland 2 Saudi Arabia 0; Argentina 2 Mexico 0; Australia 1 Tunisia 0; France 2 Denmark 1
In Group C, a milestone first World Cup goal for Lewandowski helps Poland see off Saudi Arabia, who play well but miss a penalty. A milestone for Messi too, who’s superb 20-yard drive – his 8th World Cup goal to equal Diego Maradona’s total – opens up a tense, tight affair as Argentina finally get going and Enzo Fernandez curls in late to ease nerves. In Group D, Mbappe scores twice against Denmark, taking an early lead in the Golden Boot race, and Australia seat deep against Tunisia, counterattack once, score, and then held on to the points to…blow the group wide open.
November 27th 2022
Japan 0 Costa Rica 1; Germany 1 Spain 1; Belgium 0 Morocco 2; Canada 1 Croatia 4
Another day, another upset as Costa Rica somehow beat Japan with their only shot at goal, from Keysher Fuller in the 81st minute. Morocco overcome an early disallowed goal to deservedly topple no.2 ranked Belgium with goals from Abdelhamid Sabiri and Zakaria Aboukhlal. Canada’s Davies scores the fastest goal of the World Cup, but no upsets here; Croatia come roaring back in style. A first World Cup goal for substitute Niclas Fullkrug keeps Germany alive against Spain, but one point from two games leaves the 2014 champions barely clinging on…in another group blown wide open.
November 28th 2022
Cameroon 3 Serbia 3; Brazil 1 Switzerland 0; Korea 2 Ghana 3; Portugal 2 Uruguay 0
End to end stuff in Group G, where Cameroon overcome a two-goal deficit to hold Serbia. Vincent Abubaker comes off the bench to turn the game with a deft scooped lob. In Group H, Ghana survive a late aerial bombardment before seeing off Korea in a five-goal thriller, the second of Kudus’ brace proving the winner. Elsewhere, Portugal’s defeat of Uruguay isn’t without controversy; Ronaldo thinks he has scored Portugal’s opener and goes off celebrating, but the officials can’t confirm a touch and give it to Bruno Fernandes, who then put away a dubious, hotly contested penalty late on with Ronaldo already substituted. Fuming.
November 29th 2022
Ecuador 1 Senegal 2; Holland 2 Qatar 0; Iran 0 USA 1; England 3 Wales 0
History all around as Qatar become the first ever host nation to lose all three group games, Senegal reach the second round for the second time in their history and Gakpo joins Johan Neeskens, Dennis Bergkamp and Wesley Sneijder, as the only Dutchmen to score in three consecutive World Cup games. Pulisic’s goal gives USA the points – and second spot in Group B – at the expense of political arch-rivals Iran, while England easily sweep Wales away.
November 30th 2022
Poland 0 Argentina 2; Mexico 2 Saudi Arabia 1; Tunisia 1 France 0; Denmark 0 Australia 1
High drama to the death…everywhere! Argentina find two second half goals to continue their march to the next round, but Poland only – barely – join them because they avoid conceding a third goal, thanks to Wojciech Szczeczny saving Messi’s penalty. And thanks to Saudi Arabia scoring a consolation goal against a Mexico side that miss several opportunities to score one more goal that would have put them through in Poland’s stead. A fine balance. Australia upset Denmark in Group D to go through and send the Danes home, joining France, whose much-changed team have a late equalizer ruled out for offside and lose to Tunisia. The match winner is Wahbi Khazri, born in Ajaccio, France.
December 1st 2022
Japan 2 Spain 1; Germany 4 Costa Rica 2; Croatia 0 Belgium 0; Canada 1 Morocco 2
More drama, more tension, and another big-name exit. Group E remains manic to the end as Japan overcome a first half deficit to beat Spain and top the group. Germany lead, then trail and come back – with goals from substitutes Kai Havertz and Fullkrug – to beat Costa Rica, but the Spanish equalizer that would have saved them never arrives and they depart a second consecutive World Cup without reaching the second round. Belgium fail to find the goal they need against Croatia – despite a number of openings for Romelu Lukaku – and they go home too. Elsewhere, Morocco top the group to reach the second round for the second time in their history after goalkeeper Yaccine Bounou -born in Montreal, Canada – helps secure the win against Canada.
December 2nd 2022
Serbia 2 Switzerland 3; Brazil 0 Cameroon 1; Korea 2 Portugal 1; Ghana 0 Uruguay 2
Yes, even more drama, more tension and more upsets. Switzerland’s narrow win over Serbia puts them into the second round…but it’s a close-run thing because Cameroon surprisingly score late to beat Brazil to match their points total and the Swiss have to hold off Serbia till the end of an ill-tempered affair. In Group H, Ghana look to get revenge on Uruguay – Luis Suarez and co. – for perceived wrongs from 2010, but Andre Ayew has a penalty saved, Uruguay take a two-goal lead and it comes down to a single goal and goal difference here as well. Korea’s late winner against Portugal, suddenly leaves Uruguay needing one more goal to stay alive. They come close in a tense ending, but it’s the Asians that are celebrating in the end…along with the beaten Ghanaians, who claim some satisfaction from Uruguay’s misfortune and the bitter tears of Suarez.
On to the Round of Sixteen.