Last Sunday, I stated that I wasn’t overly fussed about the 2022 World Cup Finals as the build-up hadn’t whetted my appetite.
I didn’t think Qatar playing Ecuador was the ideal curtain-raiser for the tournament, and I stand by that.
The game didn’t do anything for me, and – as I had expected – was pretty much a non-event.
A week down the line, however, the competition has grown on me, and I’m actually enjoying it.
The games have been coming thick and fast, but watching four a day is hard work!
What has stood out?
Well, Spain caught my eye with their demolition of Costa Rica.
The opposition goalie, Keylor Navas, was a wee bit generous to them, but the overall play of Luis Enrique’s side made them worthy of their 7-0 win.
To see the teenagers, Gavi and Pedri, play so well on the big stage was heartwarming.
Gavi is just 18, and became the third-youngest player to score at a World Cup.
My goodness, when I was his age, I was still bursting spots on my face!
But all credit to the lad. What a player he is.
Pedri is one year his senior, but performed like a veteran.
Marco Ascensio scored with a cracking finish, and an actual veteran, Sergio Busquets, made sure, from his holding midfield berth, that his defence wasn’t troubled.
At the end of the 90 minutes, I felt thoroughly entertained. I’m quite excited about this Spanish side, and they could do very well.
France were also decent in their 4-1 win over Australia.
They were dealt a blow on the eve of the Finals when Karim Benzema was ruled out, but they responded positively.
Didier Deschamps would have been pleased with the contribution of Olivier Giroud, Kylian Mbappe and Adrien Rabiot.
They are the current World Champions, and will be there or thereabouts again.
Pre-tournament, Argentina had been tipped by many to win it, but they were on the end of a shock 2-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia.
Germany also lost 2-1 to Japan, and not many expected that, either.
It’s always great to see shock scorelines at the World Cup, and it really puts players and countries on the map of world football.
Of course, when you are on the receiving end of it – like I was against Iran in 1978 – it’s never pleasant.
But, watching as a neutral, it’s nice to relax and watch it all unfold without feeling any pressure.
Shock results may be happening because players are fresher at this time of year than after a long and hard domestic season, and can match the opposition for strength and fitness.
That means the team expected to win needs to do it through sheer ability, and that can never be taken for granted during the 90 minutes.
My only gripe is that there have been too many goalless games for my liking.
There was only one 0-0 during the first group stage in 2018, but already we have seen around half-a-dozen.
Off the park, the headlines have been dominated by various issues that should have nothing to do with football.
I’m not wanting anything to be swept under the carpet. Things need to be addressed and voices need to be heard.
But players and managers must also be allowed to focus on the game of football, and we can see many of them are uncomfortable when put on the spot.
It’s not right that captains have not been allowed to wear the OneLove armbands.
For the likes of Harry Kane and Gareth Bale to be told they’d be given a yellow card if they did was really poor.
The players were right not to risk it, and leave it to the authorities to discuss this situation with FIFA. But they shouldn’t have been put in that position in the first place.
There was also the decision taken just a couple of days before the tournament started not to sell beer in and around the stadiums.
The goalposts were moved by FIFA and the Qatari authorities, and that seemed totally unfair to the supporters.
The governing body and the host nation haven’t covered themselves in glory with all of that.
But the players have been doing well, and I hope there are many more entertaining games to come.
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