After an incredible month of World Cup action, we review the 22 most unforgettable moments from a truly remarkable tournament.
Infantino’s foolish speech
“Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel a migrant worker.” Gianni Infantino’s tone-deaf speech on the eve of the tournament defied belief. He has no idea what it feels to be a migrant worker and saying that he does makes light of the abuses they’ve faced in Qatar. Infantino will stand unopposed for a third term as head of world football’s governing body next year.
Saudi Arabia floors Argentina
Herve Renard slammed his players at halftime for showing Lionel Messi too much respect. Saudi Arabia was 1-0 down, which given the gulf in quality between the two teams, wasn’t an embarrassing scoreline. But the Saudis took the lead just eight minutes into the second stanza and held on to secure one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history. King Salman bin Abdulaziz called a national holiday for the day after the win over Argentina.
Germany players protest
Germany players covered their mouths before their opening match against Japan in response to FIFA’s controversial clampdown on rainbow armbands. “It wasn’t about making a political statement – human rights are non-negotiable,” the team’s Twitter account explained, adding, “Denying us the armband is the same as denying us a voice.”
Why the ‘F’ did he say that?
Canada head coach John Herdman revealing he told his players they would “F” Croatia in their next game turned out to be a huge error. The narrative should’ve been how well Canada had just played in its unlucky 1-0 defeat to Belgium, but Herdman’s speech in the post-match huddle instead became a tabloid fascination and appeared to motivate Croatia to a 4-1 win over the North American side in the second round of group matches.
That’s why he’s Brazil’s No. 9
Richarlison isn’t a conventional Brazilian No. 9. He’s not a renowned entertainer, instead earning much of his popularity with Tottenham Hotspur fans through his committed performances. But the forward kick-started Brazil’s campaign in true Canarinho fashion with his second goal against Serbia. His first touch went straight up into the air, giving him time to twist his body underneath it for a stunning acrobatic strike.
Valencia stakes early claim for Golden Boot
Having played the last five-and-a-half years outside of Europe’s top five leagues, Enner Valencia was off many football fans’ radars for some time. He definitely made an imprint at the 2022 World Cup when he followed his two-goal return in the tournament opener against Qatar with an equalizer against the Netherlands. In addition to bagging a commendable three goals for Ecuador, Valencia became the first South American to score in five successive World Cup games after his similarly impressive exploits eight years prior.
Lewy gets his goal
It wasn’t a vintage Robert Lewandowski strike, but that didn’t matter. The 34-year-old preyed on a loose ball near Saudi Arabia’s box and slid the ball under the goalkeeper. His relief in getting his first World Cup goal was clear as he cried while saluting the Polish fans. Aside from his finish in the 2-0 group win, Lewandowski has 77 other goals for Poland. The second-highest goalscorer in Poland’s history, Wlodzimierz Lubanski, tallied 30 fewer international goals than the Barcelona striker’s ever-increasing record amount.
Davies finally gets Canada off the mark
Canada should’ve really scored its first World Cup goal in the prior game, but after 22 shots went unrewarded in the 1-0 loss to Belgium, the Canucks were handed the daunting task of trying to breach 2018 World Cup finalist Croatia. It took just two minutes. Alphonso Davies met an excellent looping cross from Tajon Buchanan with a thumping header, prompting boisterous celebrations at Khalifa International Stadium. Sadly for Canada, the celebrations were short-lived as Croatia eased to a 4-1 win.
Captain America puts his body on the line
The job was simple for the United States: Win and go through, lose or draw and go home. Gregg Berhalter’s team did well to limit Iran’s chances but knew its own opportunities would be limited against an Iran side overseen by the notoriously conservative Carlos Queiroz. So when Weston McKennie and Sergino Dest finally carved through Iran’s defense, it was a relief to see the ball bounce toward Christian Pulisic. The attacker needed to be brave to finish before colliding with goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand, and the bump condemned him to muted celebrations of the eventual 1-0 victory from a hospital bed.
The conclusion to Group C was mindblowing. With nothing else separating the two teams, Poland was on the verge of edging Mexico into second place due to picking up two fewer yellow cards in Qatar. But while the Poles shied away from challenges, Argentina was inches away from another goal on multiple occasions. One more goal would’ve dumped Poland from the tournament. Meanwhile, Mexico was pouring bodies forward in search of a decisive goal in its concurrent fixture with Saudi Arabia. It was top-notch entertainment that ended with a breakaway goal from the Saudis ensuring the Poles’ last-16 place.
German comeback counts for naught
Spain was atop Group E before the third matchday, but even the Iberian nation briefly dropped to third during a volatile day of action. Germany entered its match against Costa Rica with one point from its opening two matches and fell behind 2-1 to the Central Americans. The Germans roared back to win 4-2, but their three-point haul made no difference. Japan scored twice in two minutes and 22 seconds against Spain – and the ball barely stayed in play ahead of the second strike – to overturn a one-goal deficit and take top spot. Germany finished behind Spain and crashed out.
South Korea pips Uruguay to last-16 place
South Korea incredibly vaulted from the bottom of Group H to second place with a 91st-minute finish against Portugal. Uruguay was made to pay for Hwang Hee-chan’s composed strike: The goal plucked a 2-1 win from Portugal and put the South Koreans ahead of Uruguay on the goals-scored tiebreaker (4-2). The South American side did its job in its concurrent fixture – beating Ghana 2-0 – but its players were devastated upon learning the result from the other group game, with veteran Luis Suarez inconsolable on the bench.
Ramos runs riot
While Cristiano Ronaldo watched from the bench, Goncalo Ramos went from little-known youngster to global star in 67 minutes of Portugal’s 6-1 rout of Switzerland in the last 16. The 21-year-old notched one of two hat-tricks at the 2022 World Cup in his first international start, scoring with a rifled near-post finish, a toe poke, and a neat chip to justify Fernando Santos’ decision to trust him over the ill-disciplined Ronaldo.
Time to take Morocco seriously
People were still sleeping on Morocco despite its first-place finish in Group F, but that wasn’t the case after its round-of-16 dismissal of Spain. In front of a huge Moroccan contingent at Education City Stadium, the Atlas Lions nullified their opponent, and penalties were required to separate the teams. Yassine Bounou brilliantly saved two spot-kicks before Achraf Hakimi – who was born and raised in Madrid – sent Morocco through with a nerveless Panenka penalty.
After his header put the Netherlands back in the game, Wout Weghorst produced an iconic World Cup moment at the end of the second half against Argentina. Teun Koopmeiners, the only calm head in Lusail in the 11th minute of injury time, smartly rolled a direct free-kick to Weghorst, who was positioned to the side of Argentina’s wall. The 6-foot-6 frontman turned under pressure before sliding the ball into the bottom corner, making it 2-2 at the death and forcing the quarterfinal into extra time.
Antonio Mateu Lahoz has always been a polarizing referee. His overly judicious style often irritates managers and players and can unwittingly loosen his control of proceedings. He dished out 18 yellow cards and one red card in the quarterfinal between Argentina and the Netherlands, but each punishment plunged the game into greater chaos. He wasn’t handed refereeing duties for the rest of the World Cup.
Kane sends penalty into orbit
Harry Kane has voiced his ambition to become an NFL kicker once he’s done with soccer, and he certainly displayed a knack for converting field goals with his second penalty against France. The England marksman convincingly smashed in his first effort from 12 yards, but nerves got the better of him in the 84th minute when he blazed his spot-kick well over the bar. France won 2-1 and progressed to the semifinals.
Ronaldo’s tournament ends in tears
Ronaldo admitted his dream of winning the World Cup with Portugal “ended” in the Selecao’s 1-0 quarterfinal defeat to Morocco. His emotion was obvious after the match as he started to break down on his way into the tunnel before bawling inside the guts of Lusail Stadium. Ronaldo started all three of Portugal’s group games before he was dropped to the bench for disciplinary reasons.
Boufal dancing with his mom
Morocco’s post-match celebrations were among the most heartwarming sights of the World Cup. Hakimi had some emotional embraces with his mother during the tournament, but Sofiane Boufal’s mom arguably stole the show when she danced on the pitch with her son following the Atlas Lions’ progression to the semifinals.
Messi turns back the clock
Josko Gvardiol was the best center-back in Qatar. It wasn’t even close. That made the sight of Messi – 15 years his senior – tearing him to shreds in Argentina’s semifinal victory so impressive. The attacker collected the ball just inside Croatia’s half before carrying it down the flank with Gvardiol on his tail. The young defender caught up, but Messi burned him with his elusive movement and acceleration before setting up a Julian Alvarez goal.
Mbappe carries France in final
Kylian Mbappe took charge, scoring three goals to become the first man with a hat-trick in a World Cup final since England’s Geoff Hurst in 1966. France was on the verge of defeat before his two goals in 97 seconds brought it level in the 81st minute, and he netted his second penalty of the game to restore parity once again in the 118th minute. It was a performance of supreme quality and maturity – certainly not a display you’d associate with a player on the losing team.
Argentina gets the trophy
This is the Lionel Messi World Cup. Just like Diego Maradona in 1986, Messi inspired his country to victory on the biggest stage. His crowning moment came in the final, where he scored twice and was also successful with his penalty in the shootout. He was a constant threat against France, leading the match in final-third passes (34), passes into the opposition box (11), and shots on target (four). He deservedly collected the Golden Ball as the best player in Qatar.