2022 World Cup Diary: Days 20-23


Henry Gee covers the last games, and looks back on the tournament in Qatar

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Image by Marco Verch

By Henry Gee

Tuesday 13 December (Day 20)
I know I have said previously that fewer matches mean greater anticipation and excitement can be built up around them. But I was a younger man then. Optimistic. Smooth skinned. Unburdened by experience. I realise now, with only three games left (four if you include the bruised banana that is the third-place play-off), I don’t care about this World Cup anymore.

I appear to be exhibiting the symptoms of ‘World Cup Fatigue’; sore throat, runny nose, and finding yourself agreeing with Lee Dixon. I’ve been wearing nothing but a dressing gown and staring out of dewy windows thinking forlornly of the Japanese team.

Undoubtedly, this is in part due to England’s exit. As much as we might like to think of ourselves as fans of the sport in general, if your team goes out, it becomes a lot harder to care. You watch, you go through the motions, but the rest of the tournament can’t help but feel like a mocking ‘what-could-have-been’.

The other obvious culprit is seasonal depression. Especially this past week, which has been grey, cold, and bitter. And that’s before even mentioning the weather. The fact that I even wrote that joke, let alone decided to keep it in, shows how bad it's got.

Winter plumping, end-of-term fatigue, a busy Christmas period – no wonder the World Cup seems to have lost its lustre. So, a semi-final match between Croatia and Argentina that should have been met with a child-like glee, was instead watched out of the corner of my eye, on mute, as I talked with my Mum about the impending strike action and Sunak’s announcement concerning small boat Channel crossings.

That shouldn’t be what you talk about while watching a World Cup semi-final. We should have been shouting at the ref, telling various players to “’ave a go son!”, and discussing the myriad of ways England would have beaten either team. Such is the reality of ‘World Cup Fatigue’.

As soon as Croatia let two goals in within the span of five minutes, the pretence that they were anything other than a one-trick pony, in desperate need of a decent centre-forward, became glaringly obvious. Props to Argentina; they completely tore apart what had looked like the best defence in the tournament. Messi, as ever, was great, once again proving himself as the antidote to the ‘Ronaldos’ of this world. He understands that the success of the individual is predicated on the success of the collective. Not that he’s a bastion of socialist thought. He does ads for Pepsi and Qatar’s tourist board. But as far as worshipping elite footballers goes, we could do a lot worse.

Wednesday 14 December (Day 21)
I asked my sister who she thought would win today. “Oh, hundy percent France”. As it turned out, she was a hundy percent correct.

So it is that France have single-handedly ruined the back-end of this World Cup for me. Not only did they knock out England, but in beating Morocco, have vanquished the last hope football had of proving it still had the potential to upset, to disrupt, to mean something beyond fourth quarter quotas. Does this mean I am blaming France for everything that is wrong and bad about football? Yes. Is that in any way a ridiculous statement? How dare you even suggest such a preposterous thing!

For a side that does not have a great defence (Theo Hernández in particular looks very vulnerable on the left), France defended rather well; enough to earn their first clean sheet of the tournament. It’s clear their strategy is to simply score more goals than the opposition. Which, after writing that, I realise is surely the strategy of every team? What I mean is that they don’t seem bothered about letting a few goals in because they have enough faith in their attacking prowess to score as necessary.

Interestingly, Argentina seem to employ the same tactics. Hopefully this results in a high scoring final of exciting, attacking football, rather than a boring, defensive, and overly cautious one. It goes against the way both teams play, and would be a real shame to see.

Morocco, like England, played some of their best football of the tournament. Lauded and criticised equally for their obvious defensive tactics, against France their midfield strung together attacking plays even the best teams in the world would be pleased with. They came close so many times. But Hugo Lloris proved to be a barrier too many, and denied them at every opportunity. You should have seen the look in his eyes; a man with a mission to break as many Moroccan hearts as possible.

And in doing so, he broke mine. I genuinely loved Morocco. But I couldn’t watch it all in the end. I’d been through these emotions before; I didn’t have the strength to do it again. Regretfully, I turned the TV off, and looked away at the time when they needed me most. Plus, my sister was bored by this point and wanted to watch something else. We flicked around for a bit and ended up watching an episode of Taskmaster we’d already seen.

I cried myself to sleep.

Saturday 17 December (Day 22)
No no, honestly, it’s fine – of course I can come to your Christmas party.

I haven’t seen you guys in so long, and it’s not as if I’ll be missing anything important. Nothing that I assume to be dull and pointless will turn out as entertaining and meaningful. Third-place play-off? Come on, who cares if I miss it. I’d far rather be with you guys.

That’s so sweet of you to have bought specific vegetarian canapés for me. Oh boy, I did not expect these plant-based pigs in blankets to be so spectacular! It’s not like Mislav Oršić will score an unexpectedly spectacular goal in the 42nd minute. What are the chances?

Man, I don’t remember a time when everyone was on such good form; talking, laughing, and seeming to genuinely enjoy each other’s company. It’s not like both Croatia and Morocco will score within the first ten minutes whilst playing some of their best football in the tournament, seemingly to genuinely enjoy the freedom that the occasion brings. Has hell frozen over?

And oh my word, look. They’re here! That’s amazing. Good for them. They’re looking well. This’ll be so nice for them before they go off to whatever successes they want in their chosen field. I’m so glad to have seen them. It’s not like the match will double as a dignified end to Morocco’s amazing World Cup run, as well as provide a fitting conclusion to the careers of one of the best midfielders of his generation, Luca Modric. I tell you; both my legs are separated, fleshy stumps quickly pooling blood all over your clean floors – that’s how much you must be pulling my legs.

No, I’m sure I’m missing nothing at all by being here. Nothing. At. All…

Sunday 18 December (Day 23)
I was supposed to write this Sunday evening. The longer I sat staring at the screen, the longer I refused to go to bed until I finished it, but the less I was sure about anything I was writing.

I thought I knew how I wanted to start it. I was at a family lunch during the final, and because of timings couldn’t watch the first half because ignoring your family to watch millionaires run around a grass rectangle for thousands of strangers in a competition designed to soften an authoritarian regime might be considered a little rude.

So, I was going to open with a joke about how, like France, I wasn’t entirely there for the first half. Then make a comment about how they defended like they’d been drinking as much red wine as me. It was a French wine too; Chateuneuf-du-Pape. My great uncle always gives us good wine.

It’s just…I don’t know. It’s over, and I feel sad about that. Sad because I enjoyed it, and sad because I enjoyed it. I also don’t know what I’m complaining about; the final was amazing. Watching the highlights of that first half, and being there for the rest, it felt like the final I had been hoping for; two attacking sides actually going for it. There was no sitting back and cautiously defending, no playing for a draw; both teams came to win, and it showed. Mbappe scored a hat-trick and lost! How could this final be seen as anything other than amazing?

Yet, in spite of its quality, and the overall excellence of most of the teams at this year’s tournament, as I sat watching the final buffer awkwardly through my phone, with my family moving, talking, and laughing around me, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d made the wrong decision.

I’ve watched nearly every match at this World Cup, but it was the ones I watched with my friends and family that I enjoyed the most. Not because they were necessarily the best matches, but because we could share in whatever happened, together.

I don’t know. I think that’s possibly too sentimental even for me. I’ve heard it said elsewhere that the quality of the football at this World Cup has a serious case of wrong place, wrong time. It’s in the winter instead of the summer, it’s in a country that doesn’t have the greatest track record, at a time when the world is facing some pretty big problems. It feels like football has never been more necessary, and more out-of-touch with everything else going on around it.

Have I enjoyed this World Cup? Yes. Do I feel great about that? Not really. Do my feelings about that matter? I’m not sure.

The next tournament will be engorged with 48 teams. The number of matches is astronomical. This year’s World Cup is probably the last to feel like this one has felt. I still don’t know how I feel about that.