When the FIFA World Cup comes round every four years it always takes me back to when I was a child experiencing my first two tournaments in Mexico ’86 and Italia ’90 respectively. They were such different times when very few live games were shown on TV and the foreign teams and players were something of an unknown quantity.
Football, and indeed football on TV, has changed a lot over that time. Doing things like filling in a wall chart or collecting stickers albums cans help relive childhood memories but it’s not quite the same and I have long accepted that the World Cup is a different beast in the present day. I think this must have been my least viewed tournament due to a mix of work, illness, inconvenient kick-off times and just a general worse concentration span for consuming live games. Two minute highlights (plus podcast analysis) are often sufficient for me these days.
What a fantastic final it was between Argentina and France, and who would’ve thought the former would go on to win the tournament for the first time since Mexico ’86 after losing their first match to Saudi Arabia! The winning goal in that match was a stunning finish with a great celebration but my favourite goal of the tournament was probably the scoop one in Cameroon’s 3-3 draw with Serbia.
The African team that left the biggest mark on the World Cup though was obviously Morocco who knocked out Spain and Portugal en-route to the semi finals. Their fans, along with those from Argentina and Mexico, were amazing and brought a lot of colour and atmosphere to a tournament which was lacking in the latter at times.
England achieved the mimimum expected of them by reaching the quarter finals. Despite being on top in that match against France for most of it they still came up short and just weren’t as clinical as the French who proved in the final that they have so much resolve. I’m very much in the Southgate-in camp and was glad to hear that our most successful manager since Alf Ramsay in 1966 will continue in the job. The big wins against Iran, Wales and Senegal were never going to satisfy some England fans though who want to see us perform much better against the bigger nations in knock-out football.
The aforementioned Wales were a big disappointment but were probably just happy to have qualified for their first World Cup since 1958. You’d be forgiven for thinking the same of Australia who were never expected to do anything in a group containing France, Denmark and Tunisia. However, their team work and ethic were enough to amazingly win a couple of times before bowing out with their heads held high in the Round of 16 against Argentina.
In some ways it really was an unbelieveble tournament for Japan as they finished on top of Group E with two giant scalps to their credit. Very few could have predicted they’d get wins over both Germany and Spain. Not only that but they were behind in both of those matches and manager Moriyasu got his tactics spot on although they did ride their luck at times, and I still think the winner against Spain was fortunate to be given after the VAR check. When considering Moriyasu’s selection, one does wonder if too much emphasis is put on the starting XI these days. With multiple substitutes allowed it really is such a squad game and as much about which players finish the game.
There wasn’t too much going on for any of the Leicester players in Qatar which, from a selfish point of view, may have been a good thing. No clubs will probably be rushing to try and sign any of them in the January transfer window. There was so much clamour in the media and online for James Maddison to be called up.
I really was taken quite by surprise when he was included in the 24 man squad but when he didn’t make an appearance at the end of the Iran and Wales group games it seemed obvious that he would play no part in this World Cup. Daniel Amartey, Papy Mendy and Timothy Castagne all did solid jobs for Ghana, Senegal and Belgium respectively but the other trio of Youri Tielemans, Wout Faes, and Darren Ward will all be disappointed.
Having the World Cup in a Muslim country in the Middle East was never something I was against as I do believe the beautiful game should be taken around the world and not just consigned mostly to the western world and its many beer-guzzling fans. The human rights issues in Qatar cannot be ignored though, especially with regard to the thousands of migrant workers who have died in the country since FIFA awarded them the World Cup twelve years ago.
That’s not to say that the 2026 World Cup will be without problems either. The carbon footprint of teams, fans and journalists flying between stadiums in multiple North American countries is not a good one, especially after Qatar where all the stadiums were within about 50 miles of each other. Not only will that be on a grander scales in terms of various timezones and climates, but it will also feature a 50% increase in teams as 48 countries will be involved. Whilst it’s good that some weaker nations will qualify and get their spot in the limelight, it may also backfire if they are on the wrong end of some big thrashings.
Click on the following to read my overview from past tournaments: