Ollie B. ’25
It’s been more than three months since the beginning of one of the most celebrated events every four years. Composed of cheers, cries, goals, wins, and losses, and by far the most watched and popular sporting event: The World Cup. And what is better than looking back at its most glorious moments? Specifically, its greatest games. That is right; I will rank my top 5 games of the 2022 World Cup.
However, before getting into the ranking, it is important to understand the events leading up to its commencement. More than a decade before the first game, Qatar was awarded the honor of hosting the World Cup. However, this decision was met with controversy. With practically no stadiums that could host such a large-scale event, Qatar had to construct multiple stadiums, some reaching a 60,000-seat occupancy. To complete the task, Qatar had to hire more than 30,000 foreign laborers and violated human rights, sparking large criticism of the event before its start. But on November 20th, the World Cup kicked off with the first game, Qatar versus Ecuador. And while this game was rather mundane and uneventful, there were 63 other games. Some were boring. Yet, some were riveting, gluing people’s eyes to the TV screen. So without further ado, here is my ranking of the top 5 games of the 2022 World Cup.
5. Argentina vs Saudi Arabia
In fifth place was one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. Coming into the match with an 80.2% chance of winning, Argentina was considered a heavy favorite of not only the game but the tournament. On top of that, they were unbeaten in their previous 36 games, the second most in international soccer history. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia barely made it into the tournament, and there were no expectations for a successful run. It was supposed to be a comfortable first match for Argentina, setting them up for success for the rest of the tournament. And at the beginning of the game, all the predictions seem to be true. Only 10 minutes into the game, Argentina was awarded a penalty, and in typical Messi fashion, he scored the penalty and propelled Argentina 1-0 up in the game. Argentina continued to dominate the rest of the first half, controlling most of the possession; however, they couldn’t convert any more chances.
When the second half started, it didn’t take long for another goal. But, the goal was scored by Saudi Arabia’s Saleh Alsheheri, making the score 1-1. To make matters worse for the Argentine side, Salem Aldawsari scored 5 minutes later in the 53rd minute, making the game 2-1 Saudi Arabia. At the time, people could not believe what they witnessed. Frankly, I could not believe what I witnessed. Expected to be one of the best teams in the tournament, the Argentinian team sent waves of shock across the globe. For the next four days, people even speculated whether Argentina would make it out of the group stage. Obviously, that wasn’t the case, but the excitement during the game and the brief period of tension after it made Argentina versus Saudi Arabia one of the best games during the whole tournament.
4. Japan vs Spain
Inches. Centimeters. That small distance separated Japan from being a round of 16 contender or a group stage bust. Coming into the final game, Group E was very much in the air, as it remained unclear who would be the group’s winners and who would have an unfortunate early exit. Spain, having won 7-0 against Costa Rica in their first game and drawing 1-1 against Germany in their second game, were first place in the group coming into the game. Japan, upsetting Germany 2-1 in their first game but losing 1-0 against Costa Rica in their second game, was in second place heading into the match. However, with Germany and Costa Rica at 2 and 3 points, respectively, neither Spain nor Japan was securely positioned to make it out of the Group Stage. And at the beginning of both games, all seemed well for Spain and Germany. With both teams scoring early in their respective matches, both nations were at the top of the group and set to make it out of the Group Stage.
However, all changed in the second half. After complete dominance by Spain for the majority of the game, Japan was awarded an opportunity in the 48th minute, and they seized it. Scoring a goal, the game was tied at 1-1, making Japan and Germany have the same amount of points. Yet, Japan was not over, crossing the ball inches before it went out of bounds to set them 2-1 ahead of the Spanish side. With a lead in their game, Japan was ahead of Germany on points, not only allowing them to make the knockout stages but win the group. Unfortunately for Germany, despite their victory over Costa Rica, they could not make it out of the group stage for a second consecutive World Cup. Due to its larger significance in the group, high stakes, and somewhat controversial call, Japan vs. Spain surely was a game to remember.
3. Brazil vs Croatia
With another upset, Croatia vs. Brazil was definitely one of the most exciting games of the World Cup. Having comfortably beat South Korea 4-1, Brazil, the nation with the most World Cups of all time, came not only into the quarter-final match as favorites but the rest of the tournament. On the other hand, Croatia narrowly beat Japan in penalties, so there were few expectations for a Croatian victory, despite their success in the 2018 World Cup. With aging players such as Modric leading the Croatian team compared to the youthful and energetic forces of Vincius Jr and Antony, it seemed inevitable that the Brazilian team would win the game and get their shot at redemption during the semi-final match.
However, the soccer gods had different plans. Being fairly even the first 90 minutes, the fixture was forced into extra time. And at the end of the first extra time period, everything seemed to be coming together for Brazil. With only 1 minute to spare before the end of the half, Neymar, the Brazilian superstar, dribbled elegantly through the Croatian defense. After finding a pass and completing a one-two, Neymar glided past the goalie and stuck the ball in the back of the net, putting Brazil 1-0 up. But when all seemed well for Brazil, Croatia’s resilience and unyielding determination tied the game in the 117th minute. Coming down to penalties, the Croatians seized the moment and won 4-2, enabling them to go to the semi-final match for their second consecutive World Cup. Unfortunately for Brazil, they suffered their second consecutive World Cup quarter-final loss and another round of overwhelming tears. But that is soccer, and Croatia vs. Brazil perfectly encapsulated what the World Cup is all about: the drive to win.
2. Argentina vs Netherlands
It was my expectation that Argentina vs. Netherlands would be a good game, but I was not expecting it to be anywhere near the level of the previous game that day: Croatia vs. Brazil. And while the first 80 minutes made me think my assumption was correct, the last 10 minutes(or 20 minutes) were some of the most exciting moments in World Cup history. Heading into the game, Argentina, despite their initial loss to Saudi Arabia, was cruising through the knockout stages, defeating Australia 2-1. While they didn’t make the World Cup in 2018, the Netherlands looked like a formidable side in the 2022 World Cup, easily winning their group and match against the United States. Led by Liverpool defender Virgil Van Dijk and coach Louis van Gaal, the Netherlands team had sky-high confidence before the match, even criticizing the Argentinian team and their star player Messi. Yet, Messi did not take the words lightly, helping his team go up 2-0 after 73 minutes.
With only a matter of minutes left in the game, Argentina seemed to be one step closer to its ultimate goal of winning the World Cup. But in the 83rd minute, the Dutch scored off a set-piece, making the score 2-1 with a couple of minutes left to play. To make matters worse, one of the Argentinian players, Leandro Paredes, kicked the ball at the Netherlands bench, instigating a skirmish between the two sides. With his actions forcing more added minutes, the Dutch were awarded one final opportunity in the 101st minute of the game. A free kick, expected to be shot over the wall, turned into an act of brilliance by the Dutch side. Faking a shot and passing the ball through to Weghorst, the Dutch were able to equalize in the last minute, forcing the game into extra time. With no goals being scored in extra time, the game moved onto penalties. However, unfortunately for the Dutch, just like in the 2014 World Cup semi-final, they failed to defeat the Argentinian side and were forced to leave Qatar early. The Argentinians, while happy about making it through, still were angry with the Dutch, and their animosity persisted. Even after the game, both teams called each other out in interviews, making it one of the most memorable experiences in the World Cup. A last-minute goal. Constant physicality. What more could you ask for in a World Cup match?
1. Argentina vs France
From the beginning of the World Cup, it was destined. Messi, in his last World Cup, hoping to get the one trophy missing from his cabinet. France, defending champions and led by upcoming superstar Kylian Mbappe, hoping to win their second consecutive World Cup trophy. All the games and sacrifices leading to this one game and moment. On December 18, 2022, the world witnessed the World Cup final. And the world wasn’t disappointed.
Not all seemed exciting in the first moments of the game. With the expectation of the fixture to be close and exciting, we were left disappointed by the complete dominance of the Argentine side. Within 36 minutes, they scored two goals, one by Messi and one by Di Maria. On the other hand, France failed to get one shot on goal, making it seem like an uneventful ending to a glorious World Cup. But in the 80th minute, France, who mounted increasing pressure on Argentina, was awarded a penalty. And despite Argentina’s goalie Emiliano Martinez’s phenomenal penalty saves throughout the tournament, he couldn’t save Mbappe’s blistering shot. With the game being 2-1 with around 10 minutes left, we were ready to witness a race to the finish. But France, impatient and wanting to score, passed the ball to Mbappe 1 minute later and tied the game. Initially dominating the game to its entirety, Argentina were left dumbfounded, blowing their 2-0 lead in a matter of a minute. For the remaining 10 minutes of regular time, both teams had an abundance of chances, getting closer to scoring but incapable of finishing the deed. Yet, at the beginning of the second half of extra time, Lionel Messi scored a goal off a deflection, putting Argentina 3-2 ahead of its opposition. However, while Argentina seemed to be smooth sailing towards being world champions, soccer sensation Kylian Mbappe scored a 118th-minute equalizer. After a remarkable save by Argentina’s Martinez, the goalie would prevail again and lead his team in penalties 4-2 to win the World Cup.
There was nothing more you could have wanted. It was the perfect conclusion to the World Cup and Messi’s international career. Argentina, despite its hardships, was able to surpass its difficulties and come away as world champions, cementing Messi as one of the greatest players to ever walk the Earth. While the World Cup final was one to remember, there were so many spectacular games during the World Cup. In addition to the ones listed above, other exciting games were South Korea vs. Ghana, Morocco vs. Portugal, and Germany vs. Japan. And while it will be a long four years until the next World Cup, we are lucky to have witnessed such great games in this installment of the great game.
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