Last week, the exciting end of a great football month in Qatar came when Argentina and Lionel Messi were named world champions. The best in the world came face to face as they battled it out for football’s ultimate prize, and Messi finally has the title to his name.
Perhaps we have learned that Messi is the best player to play the game, but there were also a host of other fascinating discoveries from the Middle East.
Could Cristiano Ronaldo’s career be coming to a crashing end? Can underdogs still triumph? Why will the Qatar World Cup be the last of its kind?
Below, we look at the biggest moments from Qatar and what we have learned from those findings. You can find the latest spread betting odds on the beautiful game here.
Lionel Messi is the greatest of all-time
The little magician has lit up the World Cup this winter, despite narrowly missing out on the Golden Boot. He was pipped to the award ahead of Kylian Mbappe after the 23-year-old scored a hat-trick in the final, but Messi still scored seven and assisted three this winter.
The 35-year-old showed class in Qatar by dribbling and passing with skill and still being able to score goals. His assist against the Netherlands in the quarterfinals was sublime, with many highlighting his incredible vision to pick out the pass for Nahuel Molina.
Messi was awarded the World Cup Golden Ball for the best player at the tournament, and he also became the oldest player to win the award, proving just how difficult it is to stay at the top of your game at that age.
With a World Cup winner’s medal now around his neck, Messi can truly put himself up amongst the greats with the likes of Pele and the late Argentinian hero Diego Maradona.
Underdogs can still prevail
Morocco was the surprise package in Qatar but was finally undone at the final four, failing to get past France. Walid Regragui’s team had shown that organization and defence could beat attacking flair and tiki-taka by beating Spain and Portugal in the round of 16 and quarterfinals, respectively. They also put on a brave display against Les Bleus, putting Didier Deschamps’ men under pressure for large portions of the game despite suffering a 2-0 defeat.
The Atlas Lions’ success has been the feel-good story of the Qatar World Cup. They will invigorate other African nations and the Arab World, becoming the first African team to reach the semi-finals of a World Cup.
Japan also put in a fantastic performance this winter, topping Group E ahead of heavyweights Spain and Germany and 2014 quarter-finalists Costa Rica. The Blue Samurai also came extremely close to knocking out semifinalist Croatia but were thwarted on penalties by goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.
Let’s remember how amazing it was that Saudi Arabia beat the team that would end up winning the group, Argentina, in their first game. It certainly feels like some time has passed since that occurred, but it will continue to give hope to nations in the future that upsets can still happen. Equally, what an achievement by the Saudis to have inflicted the only defeat in all tournaments on the now world champions.
Cristiano Ronaldo could be finished
It has been a complete whirlwind for Ronaldo ever since he made his return to Manchester United. From his fallout with Erik Ten Haag, his blockbuster interview with Piers Morgan and being let go by the Red Devils, the 37-year-old was also at the centre of controversy this winter.
Portugal head coach Fernando Santos decided to drop the former Real Madrid forward from his starting eleven, preferring 21-year-old Goncalo Ramos in their round of 16 ties against Switzerland. Despite the eventual defeat, Ramos also kept his place in the team for the quarterfinal clash against Morocco.
Some criticized Santos’ decision to play Ramos ahead of Ronaldo, and it is easy to say in hindsight that he made the wrong decision. Nonetheless, the 68-year-old was relieved of his duties after Portugal’s exit, and the nation will now be on the hunt for their next man in charge.
However, it will be highly likely that whoever that person is will not have to deal with Ronaldo at the next World Cup, with the veteran aged 41 by 2026. Of course, he still has every faith that he can make the squad for the 2024 European Championship in Germany, but Ronaldo is on the decline. Question marks remain on where he will be heading next.
This will be the last World Cup of its kind
At the 1994 World Cup, only 24 teams entered the tournament in the United States. However, France 98′ saw the competition expand to the format we all know now with 32 teams. FIFA has already planned to expand for the 2026 World Cup, with 16 teams to be incorporated into the competition.
There are some concerns that there could be too many dead rubbers, with plans for the current format to be made up of 16 groups of three. FIFA may still revise the decision, with rumours of reducing the number of groups to 12 but with four teams each.
The current format has worked well for the past two decades, including an incredibly successful tournament in Qatar this year. Still, even with just 32 teams, host nation Qatar struggled to be competitive, and this could open the door for the initial disparity in terms of quality and a lack of a competitive edge in some games. On the other hand, it will improve the quality of these footballing nations in the long run, but either way, the Qatar World Cup will be the last of its kind.