Moroccan magic provides unique Qatar sub-plot | Football

Argentina fans celebrate after their win against Australia (Picture: Shutterstock)

How was it for you? Quiet? Emotional? A little unnerving? The first day of a World Cup without any football is always a difficult one and with a schedule as condensed as this one and the tournament taking place in the frigid midwinter, the first off day of Qatar 2022 presented its own unique challenges.

And yet, we got through it and, like Christmas, a winter World Cup must have time for reflection, so what have we learned so far?

That soporific Spain don’t change, Lionel Messi is still central to Argentina’s hopes but Portugal have tried life without Cristiano Ronaldo and quite like the taste.

Brazil are formidable but, if you believe Louis van Gaal, might just be Netherlands in disguise and, if you listen to Roy Keane, are a bit too fond of a jig.

Holders France deserve respect but can be beaten – it’s happened already – and England, well, maybe they have been soft-pedalling all year and might be a lot better than we thought.

Qatar, the least popular choice of World Cup host for at least four years, may have been made to feel a little awkward with all that talk about equality, human rights and not killing or ripping off the people who built the stadiums for you but, once the non-stop diet of football started everything else took a backseat.

Morocco have made it to the last 16, beating Spain 3-0 on penalties (Picture: Getty Images)

While the stands aren’t always full, it is Brazil that bring the colour and Argentina the noise but in the Arab world’s first World Cup it is fittingly Morocco who have the passion.

No one wants to stand shoulder to shoulder with Fifa big potato Gianni Infantino – an impossible task when he is socially distanced in his presidential seat-for-one like an evil genius in need of a cat to stroke – but there’s no denying holding a World Cup in the Middle East has brought new life to the tournament and given it a fresh energy which Morocco have encapsulated on the field and taken all the way to the quarter-finals.

And while international football can be derided and ignored outside of major tournaments, what keeps it fascinating is that when it comes to the biggest stage it is the ultimate ‘show us what you have’ moment for the state of a nation’s game. A struggling club side can spend their way out of a crisis but, aside from a sales pitch to a dual-national, there is little that can be done to hide the cracks in a national team.

So Qatar 2022 exposed the hosts as out of their depth, Belgium too old, Germany too talent poor in key positions and Spain too wedded to a concept and unwilling to change.

But while teams from Africa, Asia and North America had their moments in the group stages and some big names fell early, the Atlas Lions of Morocco are outliers in a last eight dominated by international football’s traditional power bases with Brazil, Argentina, France, Netherlands, England and Portugal joined by relative upstarts and yet recent finalists Croatia in the quarter-finals.

So with 56 games done we’ve learned a lot and with eight to go there is still plenty more to find out. Right, time-out over, see you on the other side.

MORE : Raheem Sterling considering return to England’s World Cup squad in Qatar after armed home robbery

MORE : Morocco stun lacklustre Spain on penalties to bag World Cup quarter-final spot for the first time in their history

For more stories like this, check our sport page.

Follow Metro Sport for the latest news on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

About Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *