December 2, 2022 | SPORTS | Michael Braithwaite | Illustration by Sydney Morris

On Sunday, Nov. 20, the 2022 FIFA World Cup kicked off its Group Play stage, with the inaugural match ending in a 2-0 finish by Ecuador against the tournament’s host country Qatar.

The match officially began the quadrennial global tournament, which has been marred by controversy even before the initial kickoff. The Middle Eastern host country’s strict conservative government prohibits any of its citizens from same-sex relations and upholds inequitable gender norms. However, FIFA has made it clear that forms of protest by teams on the pitch will result in, at minimum, an in-game penalty.

The international governing body of soccer has put its full support behind Qatar despite the criticisms surrounding the country’s discriminatory laws. FIFA even agreed to ban beer sales for the tournament, caving to Qatari demands though undoubtedly losing out on significant profits in the process.

Even with the multitude of controversies surrounding the host country, the main focus of the World Cup is, of course, soccer. It has been an entertaining tournament thus far and only seems to be getting more competitive as teams begin to get eliminated.

After becoming the first host nation to ever lose its opening match, Qatar was quickly eliminated after losing its next two matches against Senegal and the Netherlands, both of whom later advanced to the Round of 16.

The United States survived a scare by Iran in the final 15 minutes of their match on Tuesday, Nov. 29 to advance to the Round of 16 as well. After failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup amidst a transition away from their outdated veteran core, Team USA has relied on a young roster to advance into the 2022 knockout round, and have already proved they belong in the tournament with their hard-fought draw against a top-ranked England team.

In what may be Lionel Messi’s final World Cup, his Argentina squad is looking to make a deep run. Multiple websites predicted Argentina to be a serious contender for winning the Cup before the tournament even began, which would be the country’s first global championship since Diego Maradona led the team to a victory in the Final back in 1986.

Fellow veteran player (and debated ‘best player in the world’ candidate) Christiano Ronaldo is also looking to lead his Portugal team past the Group Stage. The 37-year-old forward has looked his age throughout the Group Play so far, but with his leadership ability and always dangerous goal-scoring potential, he will look to keep Portugal competitive heading into the Round of 16.

In a highly competitive Group E, it initially seemed as if Spain and Germany were going to run away from Japan and Costa Rica. However, an upset on the afternoon of Thursday, Dec. 1 flipped the group on its head. After falling behind 1-0 early in their match against Spain, Japan fought back and scored two goals, winning the match and advancing to the Round of 16 in the process. While Germany was able to hold of a Costa Rica comeback in their match, Japan’s victory eliminated them from the tournament.

Brazil and France have also solidified themselves as surefire favorites to win a trophy. Leading France is Kylian Mbappé, whose three goals so far this World Cup have kept the team at the top of Group D. While France has scored six goals in their Group Play matches, Brazil has scored just three, with one of them coming from longtime forward Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior.

Neymar, a veteran of the game despite just being 30, is also looking to win his first World Cup. While Brazil has been a routine contender in the quarterfinals and semifinals over the previous few tournaments, they have yet to win the trophy during Neymar’s career. With a blistering back line, Brazil will look to ride its defensive prowess into the later rounds of the bracket.

The final matches of the Group Stage will take place on Friday, Dec. 2, and the first games in the Round of 16 will take place on Saturday, Dec. 3. With so much taking place both on and off the pitch, this World Cup has already proven to be as eventful as advertised, and the competition has only just begun.

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