Helen Geckle / Gavel Media

World Cup Recap: Semi-Finals and Final

For the third time in history, Argentina’s Men’s National Team has won the World Cup. Defeating France in penalty kicks (4-2), Lionel Messi, at long last, added the singular missing trophy to his trophy case. Argentina erupted into celebrations, celebrating a nervy conclusion to a game that came alive in the 80th minute thanks to a superhuman effort from French star Kylian Mbappé, who scored four times for France.

The skinny? Messi, Mbappé, Modrić, all of Morocco, and then the second section of this article is all about the experience.

 

The Teams

Obviously, the storyline for Argentina was Messi. In his final World Cup, the 35-year-old finally took home the prize that had eluded him, silencing the section of commentators who believe one has to win a World Cup to be considered the GOAT. Dramatic until the end, Argentina briefly forgot how to play soccer around the 80th minute, allowing France to sneak back into the match. Wanting to involve every member of the squad, Argentina kindly extended the game to penalty kicks, allowing the brilliance of Emiliano Martinez to shine through his antics on the goal line. Tactically, Argentina still doesn’t like defense, Messi is still a cheat code, and the young core built around him is here to stay, especially Julián Alvárez. 

France took home second place, failing to win back-to-back World Cups but showcasing their talent and how bright the future looks with Mbappé on their roster. Making two subs in the 41st minute seemed to signal the death knell for France, but it proved essential as the game came alive in the second half. Three converted penalties by Mbappé plus a goal in the run of play carried France as close to the finish line as one man could drag the team. Another team that prefers their offense to be their defense, France survived Argentina’s initial push, adjusted especially in the second half, and managed to crack the defense in the span of two minutes. The depth coming off the bench also showcases the danger France presents: the next generation will be even more lethal.

Croatia finished third for their third medal performance since 1998. The match likely was Luka Modrić’s last World Cup game at the age of 37. Unable to manage the midfield against Argentina, Croatia held it against Morocco for an entertaining third-place game where the result was never truly in doubt. One of, if not the, best midfield in the tournament, all eyes remained focused on Modrić, savoring the magic with the understanding of both how rare and how fleeting the moment was. Difficult to play against, Croatia found the offense when necessary, relying on a well-oiled defense and cool heads to escape pressure and grind out wins.

Darling of the tournament, Morocco, took home fourth place—the highest finish for an African (as well as Arab) nation in World Cup history. Tactically, the team started off shaky from nerves and Croatia capitalized. Being down a goal forced Morocco to open up and the Croatian midfield took advantage, despite Morocco managing to score two minutes after Croatia’s opening goal. Even so, Hakim Ziyech has pledged to donate his World Cup earnings to poor families in Morocco. After wins, the team would hold up the Palestine flag, showcasing their support at a World Cup where political gestures were expressly banned. Through gestures like these, as well as goalkeeper Yassine Bounou playing with his son, the team captured the hearts of people watching around the world.

 

The Experience

There’s a lot more one could write about the World Cup from a tactical standpoint. But if you’re reading this, you’re probably one of the billions of people who tuned in to the final match. You probably even watched more than just the final match, meaning, you already know what happened and have your own opinions on tactics, the outcome, and the controversy shrouding the event from the moment Qatar was chosen to host. Mostly, the World Cup is about community, bringing people together, and turning strangers into friends as you yell at the same airport TV together.

Louise Faitar ’23 jokingly admitted that Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford of England “ruined [her] week with those MISSED CHANCES,” channeling the frustration all soccer fans feel when their team can’t find the back of the net.

But Faitar also said, “It meant a lot to see all the Messi fans around the world come together and celebrate the big win this past weekend! People who probably wouldn’t have rooted for Argentina otherwise were all extremely happy that Messi got the win he deserved. Everything has been so divisive lately because of the pandemic, wars, and politics, so the World Cup was a much-needed break from all those divisions. It was also really touching to see Emmanuel Macron consoling Mbappé after the game.”

Dylan Burgess ’23 also spoke to the theme of finding a connection to strangers as students navigated a campus where someone always had a game on. Burgess summarized the experience by saying, “The World Cup brings together so many people from around the globe, it’s amazing to see my friends of so many backgrounds and nationalities all coming together to celebrate the love of the game. It’s been an amazing opportunity to learn about my friends through this as well as connect with total strangers in lounges and classrooms watching the tournament.” 

Perhaps the best example of the kind of spontaneous connection the World Cup can generate comes from Nipuni Obe ’23. Coming home at the end of the semester, her flight landed at the start of the second half. Finding her mom at Ben's Chili Bar, the senior stayed to watch the rest of the game, describing how, as the game continued on, “And especially near the end of overtime, there was a crowd gathered around. Every time someone got close to scoring, it felt like the whole place was halfway on their feet and I could literally feel the tension in the air. People were making room for strangers, catching them up on the last few mins, et cetera.”

At the end of tension-heavy overtime, Obe described the scene after the final penalty kick: “Everyone was waiting in anticipation and the second they scored, everyone knew that they’d won. All those people were on their way to or on their way back from somewhere but just for a small bit of time, we were all crowded around an airport restaurant, watching World Cup history being made.”  

Personally? There’s a lot I could say about the experiences of community this World Cup. I sat on the stairs at work and watched Morocco try to contain France with my fellow graduate assistants and the students there for study abroad appointments. (Special shout out to the Portugal fan who told me we could not be friends due to our differing soccer opinions.) The post-USA loss depression walk in the rain where every other human being walking on campus was doing the same thing. Dedicating the first twenty minutes of my mailroom shift to discussing the updates and tactical decisions with my boss, threatening to withhold customers' packages if they picked the wrong team.

Perhaps the best moment was watching my all-time favorite soccer player finally win the World Cup and put an exclamation mark on a career that has inspired so many around the world. The number of people who shorthand Argentina to Messi tells the story better than I ever could. Four years ago, I sat at a table in a bakery in Oregon at 9 a.m. being consoled by old folks who had no idea what was going on but knew I was devastated that France had beaten Argentina. At the start of the World Cup, I forced my cousins to get up at 4 a.m. to watch Argentina lose to Saudi Arabia. On Sunday, I leaped off my floor, threw the blanket I was wrapped in, and shrieked loud enough along with some friends that my residents would have been perfectly justified in filing a noise complaint. I adore Messi.

If I’m being honest, the best memories from this World Cup were the daily texts my cousin would send, usually from school, about the different matches. My favorite exchange? Probably the one where seconds after the USMNT lost I texted him, “At least we have Argentina for two more hours,” and he responded immediately with, “Shut up. We need time to mourn.” Less than five minutes later three new texts rolled in: “Alr the pain is a little less now. Spain all the way now. Gavi be hero.” Now that the World Cup is over, I miss the daily sass, article critiques, and tactical debates. I also miss sitting on the couch for hours a day with him and six other kids shrieking “GOAL!”

For all the death, controversy, and political turmoil caused by this World Cup, the ways community grew around the positive storylines points to the very best in soccer. If you’re new to soccer, good news: there’s a women’s World Cup this summer in Australia and New Zealand—pull up a chair, turn on a game, and join the billions strong soccer community.

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