A for Atlas Lions- The Atlas Lions, or Maroc, or Morocco, became the first- FIRST! - African side to reach the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup. By the time they played France in the semis, they had only conceded once in five matches in the tournament while scoring a paltry five goals, inarguably putting on the most clinical showing of any team that came that far. They roared Africa into new heights, surpassing favourites Senegal.
B for Belgium- …and the endless woes of a team made up of the country’s finest crop of talents. Kevin De Bruyne at his peak, Romelu Lukaku their all-time topscorer, Thibaut Courtois fresh off winning the Champions League with Real Madrid and also having claimed goalkeeper of the 2018 World Cup. Here they were disjointed and, amid alleged dressing room fallouts, were easy prey for Morocco and anyone who pretty much fancied a win.
C for Croatia’s diva(s)- In the 2018 showpiece, then Croatia’s president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović appeared in the stands to support her team all the way to the finals, where they lost to France. In Qatar 2022, it was Ivana Knoll, or Miss Croatia, who has had fans staring more at the stands than the turf. It is fair to say that it pays; Croatia went all the way to the semifinals, which is no mean feat.
D for Dawsari- Salem bin Mohammed bin Shafi Al-Dawsari. Remember the name? This is the relatively unknown Saudi Arabia footballer who, in the opening fixture played Argentina, scored a screamer in the 53rd minute, giving his team a famous 2-1 victory which has been labelled as the greatest World Cup upset of all time. His team did not make it out of the group stage, though.
E for End of a 32-team World Cup- This edition was the last in which 32 teams- majority of which are drawn from Europe- play. In the next edition, which will be co-hosted by Canada, Mexico and The United States in 2026, 48 teams will be playing. As such, there will be more African countries participating, one more reason why Harambee Stars should immediately hit the ground running and seek qualification.
F for France’s black stars- Yet again, France are finalists. No European team goes into tournaments having packed in as many black players as France. When they beat Morocco in the semis, the running joke was that the African team from Europe beat the European (no, Morocco is Arabic at best) team from Africa. Mbappe, Tchouameni, Dembele, Thuram, Konate… You would be forgiven for thinking this is Burkina Faso!
G for Germany. Again.- Yes. Again. What madness could that be, you explain, that one wins The World Cup in 2014 and is in scintillating form but then four years later is eliminated in the group stages of the same edition? After regrouping for four years- eight years after lifting the trophy-this team comes again and is once more humiliated at the group stage? Dismantle this team once and for all!
H for Human Rights- Prior to The World Cup, there were reports that the preparation for this tournament left hundreds (if not thousands) of immigrant workers dead. This is the highest number of casualties in any World Cup tournament preparation in history. Hassan al-Thawadi, the secretary general of the Supreme Committee for delivery and legacy, said the number of migrant workers who had died on World Cup-related projects is “between 400 and 500”, according to the Guardian. This, by any measure, is a huge number. When football legends Eric Cantona and Phillip Lahm said they were not going to watch The World Cup, these numbers are part of what they were protesting.
I for Iran team refuses to sing national anthem- and then goes on to be walloped by England 6-2! No, that is not the point. On the back of anti-government protests fueled by a crackdown on women and children back home, the team just stood stoically as their anthem played. By the start of The World Cup, over 419 protesters had been killed since September, including 60 children, and more than 17,000 people had been arrested, according to the Iranian Human Rights Activists News Agency’s latest statistics as quoted by CBS News. They were protesting the killing of a woman in police custody.
J for Japan- They came as underdogs and were in the same group with Germany, Spain and Costa Rica. Magic here and magic there and they won the group, beating both Spain and Germany and unexpectedly losing to Costa Rica. They finally succumbed to Croatia’s all-conquering machine in the round of 16 on post-match penalties.
K for Kenya’s celebs- Betting firm Betika took many Kenyan celebrities to Qatar and some had remarkable moments. Lip-syncing sensation Arap Uria met legendary commentator Peter Drury even and taught him “a thing or two” about commentary. We truly hope Drury learnt something.
L for Lionels- L Messi and L Scaloni. These two played in the same Argentina team albeit briefly when Messi joined the fold waaaaaay back in 2005/6. Now, coach and his captain are glittering in the World Cup, dropping sensational performance after another. It is a thing of beauty as the best player of all time guns for his maiden World Cup win in his last appearance at the tournament.
M for Metroooo- Remember Abubakr Abbas, that tiktoker who got famous for directing football fans to the Metro station? With a foam finger and a megaphone, he sat atop a raised deck and repeatedly pointed to the direction of the station to bemused fans. “Metroo!” he would say. “This way!” fans would respond, pointing to the direction he had showed them. Once, he was even invited to the stadium pre-match to great excitement.
N for No Alcohol- Qatar is no pub. The culture bars that- pun intended. Fans were dumbfounded when they were told there would not be allowed indulgence in the football grounds. Alongside other restrictions, Qatar proved to be intolerant to debauchery.
O for offside trap- Thrice, Argentina were denied by Saudi Arabia’s high, yet very cautious, line. Three disallowed goals slowed down their momentum which finally saw them lose. Enner Valencia had one goal ruled out in the opening fixture against Qatar, France’s Antoinne Griezmann also suffered this, as did the US against Iran as they sought a 2-0 lead…
P for Penalties- Agenda to help a team win The World Cup? A few say so, with Argentina having been awarded four penalties in the tournament, tying the record for the most awarded in the tournament’s history (Netherlands (1978) and Portugal (1966) also had four penalties awarded). We have seen goalkeepers come prepared to make saved- Emiliano Martinez, Guillermo Ochoa, Yassine Bounou, Wojciech Szczęsny have all made great saves. And Harry Kane missed a big one to ensure it was not coming home yet.
Q for Qatar’s host woes- Qatar became the first host country to lose the opening World Cup match. They lost 2-0 to Ecuador and were then brutally eliminated without a single win in the tournament. It was a horrendous tournament for them but to be honest, no one expected them to win The World Cup.
R for Ronaldo- End of an era. Fresh from his explosive interview with British media personality Piers Morgan and consequent termination of contract by Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo endured a difficult World Cup, scoring only once from the penalty spot. The penalty was a controversial call against Ghana. He nearly claimed Bruno Fernandez’ goal which barely touched his hair.
S for Stadium 974- Made of shipping containers, this stadium was dismantled soon after it had held its last game, after hosting seven matches in two weeks. The stadium can be repurposed into a same size or a smaller facility.
T for tears- With every elimination, there are tears of agony for the homebound team. On the other hand, tears of joy for the teams going to the next round. Nearly all the finest in the world have shed a tear in this tournament, Neymar and Ronaldo among the sad faces in the knockouts. The World Cup is tearing them apart, quite literally.
U for Uruguay, again- In 2010, Luis Suarez handled the ball on the goal line, earned a yellow card and won Ghana a penalty. Asamoah Gyan skied his kick and Uruguay progressed. The two teams met yet again in Doha and, again, Ghana won, and missed, a penalty. Only this time around both teams were homebound.
V for VAR- Video Assistant Refereeing has been a big part of the game in recent years. It assesses all actions where necessary and has been at the heart of some of the most contested calls in this World Cup. Japan’s winner against Spain, which effectively knocked Germany out of The World Cup, was such a call. Had the ball crossed the line? The naked eye said yes. VAR said no.
W for Wales (and Wayne Hennessey)- You wait for years to get to The World Cup (and to have Gareth Bale in your team) and then you have such a nightmare showing. Wayne Hennessey, the goalkeeper, became the first player to be showed a red card in the tournament and allowed Iran, thus, a 2-0 win over Wales. You do not carry Hennessey to a country where alcohol is illegal and expect to get away with it.
X for the X-mas World Cup- Never before has this premier competition been held towards the end of the year. Disruptions caused by Covid-19 in 2020 and part of 2021 all but shifted the football calendar and pushed football tournaments to odd times. You lift The World Cup today and the next day, Santa is up on your housetop.
Y for Yellow Cards- Referee Mateu Lahoz gave 18 yellow cards in the showdown between Argentina and Netherlands- including two to Denzel Dumfries. This was an all-time record. It has been a thing of this World Cup; too many fouls given or yellow cards, or too many let pass. Referees have been on either extreme, but some seem pretty happy to dish out yellow cards.
Z for Zoea! Morocco is in Africa- When The Atlas Lions proceeded to the semis, one of their players boldly claimed that he dedicated the victory to all Arabs. And what about Africans, Africans asked. Were Arabs from North Africa too white to be African? Is there a continent called Arabia? Should Morocco not have qualified by beating other Arabic teams and not African teams? In the end, Morocco apologised to Africa.