Qatar did not bend. They stuck to their morals, values and religion and still managed to host the perfect World Cup.
While the west was hoping and waiting for Qatar to fall flat on it’s face, they achieved the complete opposite: the Gulf nation hosted the greatest tournament ever, and that’s before we even get to the magic that happened on the pitch.
Billions of people around the world sat in front of their screens every day for a month and witnessed history. But what they wouldn’t have experienced, was being in Doha during the World Cup.
What Qatar managed to build and achieve in the 12 years since they won the bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, some countries struggle to achieve in centuries. The preparation was thorough, taking into everything into consideration, from transport, entertainment, accessibility and safety – to providing world class hospitality for their guests.
With countries such as Denmark and Germany protesting about their grievances, Qatar remained focused on welcoming its guests from all around the world and maintaining a smooth operation of the World Cup.
As western media continued its onslaught on the Arab world, Qatar did not succumb to the pressure, nor did it choose to retaliate. Instead, they let their work over the last 12 years speak on their behalf. Millions of fans from all over the world descended onto this small country in the Middle East not knowing what to expect. But they were in for a treat.
For over a decade, fans were fed a false narrative and ingrained with a negative image of the country. Upon landing however, they were positively surprised when they were treated to a free SIM card loaded with internet for their first few days that allowed them to acclimatise in Qatar before having to worry about connectivity to the outside world.
Many were surprised to find a transportation system that allowed them to get to almost anywhere in the city without paying a cent. The jubilation was also palpable when visitors to the country found out they had access to free healthcare in case of an emergency.
Qatar had thought of everything that would allow fans to experience the tournament to its fullest, without having to worry about the minor details.
Experiences at every turn
The Gulf state worked on creating an atmosphere so spectacular around the city of Doha that you didn’t even need to be inside the stadiums to get the full experience.
Their range of fan zones were incredible, with palpable energy across the entire city. Who would have thought a World Cup in the Middle East would have just as much energy and excitement as a World Cup in Europe?
The revelation that reverberated amongst fans was that when football is not gate-kept and exclusive to one part of the world and when you open it up to everyone, you get amazing results.
The Muslim world was also represented well by Qatar, without succumbing to outside pressure in compromising their religion for 28 days in the name of ‘inclusivity’.
In fact, the Gulf state stood firm and remained adamant in doing it their way, sparking incessant attacks and unsolicited opinions on the country and Islam by western media and governments. For their lack of involvement in an international success, it must have been hard for western societies to find themselves powerless in enforcing their ways on other nations.
Millions of people were exposed to a new way of life, a culture they may never have experienced for themselves had it not been for this World Cup.
The ‘beautiful game’ did not disappoint
Coming into this tournament a few people believed that this could be one of the best World Cup’s from a footballing perspective. Players were in mid-season form, meaning that they would be at their best, looking sharp from the very start of the tournament.
When the story of this World Cup is narrated, it will always be remembered as the tournament of the underdog.
Every round of games would give us a shock even more jaw dropping than the last. Match-day 3 would set the tone for the rest of the tournament, a result that sent shockwaves to every corner of the world, with a result that showed everyone that this World Cup wouldn’t be like any other before it.
Argentina took an early lead in their opener against Saudi Arabia, in fact they put the ball in the Saudi net 4 times that half but 3 of them were ruled offside.
It wasn’t looking good at all. But what was to come would be the start of the countless sleepless nights in the Arab world. Saudi came back to win 2-1 beating Lionel Messi’s Argentina in what will go down as the biggest World Cup upset in history. The phrase “Where Is Messi?” almost instantly became the Qatar 2022 slogan.
This result started a knock-on effect of teams winning games they had no right to. Cameroon beat Brazil, Tunisia beat France, Japan beat both Spain and Germany to top their group. But nothing came close to the rollercoaster ride that Morocco took us on throughout this tournament.
They started by topping Group F, a group of death that included the 2018 World Cup’s 2nd and 3rd placed teams Croatia and Belgium as well as the exciting new team Canada. Morocco made it look easy. 7 points out of a possible 9, conceding just 1 goal which was an unfortunate own goal.
Surely their journey would come to an end when they played against early tournament pace setters Spain right? Wrong. Morocco held their defensive structure perfectly and even had the better chances to win the game before they did in a penalty shootout.
Next up Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal. Morocco did it in 90 minutes. The first African team ever to reach the Semi Finals of the World Cup. Although they were the better team in the semi-finals against current champions France, missed opportunities would ultimately end their dream.
Clash of the titans
But we were set up for a clash of the titans in the final. Argentina against France. Messi against Mbappe. The greatest ever against the young player trying to take that title for himself.
Messi with one final opportunity to reach football immortality, but France stood in his way. The game lived up to the hype and more. A fitting end to an already historic tournament. Argentina were up 2-0 and cruising with 15 minutes to play, but in the blink of an eye a moment of magic from Kylian Mbappe and it was 2-2.
We are headed to extra time. Messi gives Argentina back the lead in the 108th minute, but France are awarded another penalty with 2 minutes to go. Wouldn’t you know it, Kylian Mbappe steps up and makes it 3-3.
A penalty shootout to decide the 2022 World Cup winners was announced. The biggest game in all of sports, decided from just 12 yards. 8 kicks of the ball later, Lionel Messi had done it. Argentina were world champions again. Lionel Messi had completed football, there was nothing else left for him. A story book ending to this incredible journey.
Thank You Qatar
The first World Cup held in this region was a massive success. Qatar did not invest over $200 billion to make money, they did it to showcase their incredible country to the rest of the world with their beautiful display of culture, art and engineering. The Gulf nation devoted time and money into making this a memorable experience for anyone who was lucky enough to witness it first hand.
Thank you, Qatar, for sticking to your morals and your religion. Showing the world, the beauty of Islam while hosting such a remarkable tournament. Draping Messing with a bisht during the trophy celebration was a courageous act, knowing what would follow but just as Qatar had done throughout, they stood firm and did it their way. They started the tournament with a verse from the Quran, ended it with the greatest player ever being honoured with the Bisht – in an elegant display of religion and culture.
And most importantly, thank you for putting an emphasis on safety. For the first time ever, thousands of women were able to enjoy a game of football without having to worry about being harassed or made to feel uncomfortable.
Even though some of the largest media networks in the world were trying their best to tarnish this tournament, Qatar won. Although the west didn’t try to hide their Islamophobia, Qatar won. They won the hearts and the respect of so many around the world.
Maybe if the west set their arrogance aside, they could learn a thing or two from Qatar. The first World Cup ever with no crime, women feeling safe, no hooliganism, no drugs or alcohol. The choice to go anywhere at any time and not have to look over your shoulder because you knew you will be safe.
And as much as the west pretends that they want things to run smoothly and ‘safely’, we all know they love a bit of drama. But hey, what do Arabs know?
Mohamed Salad is an up and coming sports journalist from Somalia, focusing mainly on football in developing regions.