Argentina were crowned champions of the world after a dramatic penalty shootout in Lusail Stadium brought an end to a World Cup acclaimed as one of the best ever. Olympics.com brings you five things we learned from the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
After a World Cup final that will go down in history as one of the greatest of all time, Argentina have been crowned champions of the world for the third time in their history. Lionel Messi was at the heart of his country’s title-winning push, scoring two goal to take his total tally for the tournament to seven.
After a tepid start to the match, France – and particularly Kylian Mbappe – sprung to life in the latter stages of the game, with the young PSG star scoring only the second hattrick in World Cup history to take the game to a penalty shootout.
But nothing was to deny Argentina their moment of glory, as the albiceleste scored every one of their spot kicks to secure a famous victory in Qatar.
From Messi’s critic-defying brilliance to Mbappe’s record-breaking stats and Africa’s bright future in the game, here are five things we learned from the FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
1 - Messi removes any question marks over his status in the game
It seems almost unbelievable that Lionel Messi’s legacy could come down to one tournament but, for many, his position as the greatest footballer in history was always tarnished by the fact he had never lifted the World Cup trophy.
Seven Ballons d’Or, four Champions League titles and a Copa America are just some of the titles the brilliant Argentine has won during a glittering career, but the greatest prize of all – the World Cup – had always eluded him.
But on Sunday, in front of a passionate crowd largely dressed in his country’s famous blue and white, Messi answered every critic.
His two goals – one from the penalty spot and one in extra time – brought his total in World Cup football to 13, with seven in this tournament alone. He now has the most amount of goal contributions in World Cup history (13 goals, 8 assists), a measure of the fact he is as much of a provider as he is a scorer.
For many years, Messi has stood in the shadow of another Argentine great – Diego Maradona – whose crowning glory was the 1986 World Cup. However, after leading his country to victory in Qatar, few will question the greatness of a player who has put to bed any lasting question marks over his status as one of the best football players to ever grace the game.
2 - Mbappe is on the road to becoming a World Cup record breaker
Never had a player scored a hattrick in the final of a World Cup and come out on the losing side. But Kylian Mbappe, who became only the second player in history to score three goals in the title-deciding match of a World Cup, now holds that record after France succumbed on penalties to Argentina in Lusail.
It was a cruel ending to an excellent tournament for the 23-year-old Mbappe, who now has 12 goals to his name in just two World Cup tournaments, making him the sixth-most prolific goalscorer in the competition’s history.
Mbappe’s eight goals in Qatar means he leaves the tournament with the Golden Boot – perhaps scant consolation for someone who lifted the trophy four years ago in Russia at age 19.
However, there is little doubt that – injuries permitting – this French phenomenon will be talked about in the same vein as other greats of the game such as Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo when his career is looked back upon in the future.
Mbappe needs only four more goals to equal Germany’s Miroslav Klose’s all-time World Cup goalscoring record (16) and now stands equal with the great Pele who scored 12 goals in four World Cups between 1958 and 1970. The other names above him on the list, Brazil’s Ronaldo, West Germany’s Gerd Muller, France’s Just Fontaine and Argentina’s Messi, are all considered true legends of the game.
It has taken Mbappe only 16 games to reach 12 World Cup goals, and his scoring rate for France has seen him find the net 36 times in 66 internationals, just 17 behind his nation’s all-time record goalscorer, Oliver Giroud (53) who is 36.
And while Qatar ended with heartbreak for Mbappe, this won’t be the last we hear of this special talent who will have the opportunity to reach three more World Cup tournaments before he reaches the age of his club teammate and 2022 Golden Ball winner Messi.
3 - Morocco prove there is a bright future for Africa in world football
One nation that captured the hearts of fans all over the globe this World Cup is Morocco, who became the first African team in history to reach the semi-finals of football’s premier international competition.
Having entered the tournament ranked 22nd in the world, Morocco’s run to the semis saw them see off the likes of Belgium (ranked 2nd in the world), Spain (7th in the world) and Portugal (9th in the world) before succumbing to title holders France just one step away from the final.
Before Morocco’s run in Qatar, only three African teams had ever made it to the quarter-finals of a World Cup, with Cameroon in 1990 joined by Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010.
But all that changed this year, with Morocco overcoming every challenge in their way as they charged through to the semi-final.
While Brazilian great Pele’s prediction that an African team would win the World Cup by the year 2000 did not come to pass, the rise of Morocco in this tournament has given the continent hope that this dream will be obtainable sooner rather than later.
And while their results in Qatar were not expected before the tournament began, the skill and talent this Moroccon side demonstrated at the World Cup captured the imagination of not just an entire continent but millions of people across the globe.
4 - The future of football is in safe hands with the next generation of stars
After a thrilling tournament in which he marshalled the Argentina midfield with skill and determination, Argentina’s Enzo Fernandez was named Best Young Player at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
While the 21-year-old, who plies his trade at Benfica and is now being linked with many of the world’s top club sides, ended the tournament with a winner’s medal, he was one of many breakout stars at the tournament who are young enough to grace the game for more than a decade to come.
Portugal’s Goncalo Ramos, also 21, made an emphatic entrance to World Cup football, scoring a hattrick in his country’s 6-1 victory over Switzerland in the last 16.
England also have a new star on their hands, after Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham’s displays from midfield proved vital in their run to the quarterfinals. Bellingham at just 19 is being courted by the likes of Real Madrid and Paris Saint Germain.
Another young player who had an exceptional tournament is France’s Aurelien Tchouameni, who scored a stunner against England in the quarters and proved an able replacement for the injured N’Golo Kante in the heart of his nation’s midfield.
But these were just some of the young stars who have proved that the future of football will remain bright when the likes of Ronaldo and Messi finally hang up their boots. Germany’s Jamal Musiala (19), England’s Bukayo Saka (21), Spain’s Pedri (20) and Brazil’s Vinicius Jr (22) are just some of the other players who may vie for the title of world’s best player in the future.
And how can we forget Mbappe, who at 23 still has his footballing prime ahead of him and is already a two-time World Cup finalist and one-time winner.
5 - Age is just a number for World Cup heroes
On the other end of the age spectrum, veterans of the game turned back the clock to show there’s nothing like experience when it comes to World Cup glory.
35-year-old Messi joined 34-year-old Angel Di Maria on the scoresheet in Sunday’s final, with 34-year-old Nicolas Otamendi, 31-year-old Marcos Acuña and 30-year-old Nicolas Tagliafico all showing their worth as Argentina won their first World Cup since 1986.
And Argentina weren’t the only side to rely on an older generation of footballers who may be playing in their last World Cup tournament. Croatia’s Luka Modric, 37, was a key player in his country’s run to third place, while France’s 36-year-old Giroud scored four goals to help his country into the final.
Another veteran who may be playing in his last World Cup is Portugal’s Ronaldo and, while he may not have enjoyed the standard of tournament he has become used to, he still added to his World Cup total with a penalty in the 3-2 victory over Ghana.
Other stellar performances from the likes of Brazil’s Thiago Silva (38), England’s Kyle Walker (32) and Spain’s Sergio Busquets (34) prove that age was merely a number when it came to the 2022 FIFA World Cup.