Whatever you feel about the morality of the Qatar 2022 World Cup, it is happening – and like any major tournament, it is guaranteed to produce endless headlines, quirks and controversies. Here we will keep track of the ones that catch our eye, for all manner of reasons, while hopefully trying to remember that football does have a heart.
With 12 years’ build-up since Qatar won the bid to host this tournament, there really are endless entries we could technically add here, so no whining if we miss something buried deep in the mists of the last decade, OK? We’ll do our best to curate an interesting collection though. Without further ado…
Some would argue with considerable justification that Qatar did the whole horde of visiting fans a huge service by helping them avoid the pain of pouring Budweiser down their throats, but predictably there was OUTRAGE at FIFA’s decision to rip up their 75 million contract with the American brand just two days before the tournament started.
Football matches without beer?!? Ridiculous, this would never happen in western…. ah. It does. What was interesting was how FIFA both threw a major partner (Budweiser has held the exclusive right to supply beer at World Cups since 1986) under the bus so late in the day, and that clearly they are not the ones wearing the trousers in this marriage of convenience.
A conservative Muslim country should never be forced to bend their anti-alcohol rules because outsiders want them to; I guess the real question is where exactly FIFA’s backbone lies – in backing their sponsors, or backing their hosts. That’s if they have a spine at all…
Sunday 20 November
Qatar 0-2 Ecuador
Gianni Infantino “feels gay… Arab… migrant worker… disabled”
There are tone-deaf speeches… then there is Gianni Infantino. Already fresh from begging everyone to ignore the litany of off-field accusations and imploring world leaders involved in conflicts to introduce a month-long ceasefire while his money-spinning tournament takes place, the bald FIFA President took the stage to reel off an hour-long monologue trying to prove he understood all the concerns of disenfranchised groups in society… Because he was teased for (apparently) having red hair and freckles as a kid.
Oh he was also a migrant himself – making the treacherous switch from Italy to Switzerland – so he really does feel the pain of African and Asian workers sweating to death for mere cents per hour. Who are we to doubt a privileged, wealthy, powerful, heterosexual white man?
There was a lot more presumably Doha-approved bluster, the most notable perhaps being his extraordinary broadside against three thousand years of European human rights abuse by way of absolving the hosts of all blame. Get off Qatar’s back, until you have spent another 3,000 years apologising for Western crimes was the gist.
Given this is the poor Gianni Infantino spouting this angle, anyone could be forgiven for completely disregarding every breath. Believe us here at Heart of Football, if we never heard another peep from him it’d be a good thing. As mangled as his delivery was, though, is there a shred of justification to a slither of his point? The atrocities committed by colonisers – not to mention World Wars, genocides, hate crimes and countless other horrors – should never be swept under the rug. Where Gianni the redheaded freckle-magnet wanders into the the realms of stupidity is believing (or trying to convince us) that you must only blame one or the other. Whataboutery 101, Mr. Infantino.
There is certainly a level of hypocrisy; the UK, for example, still buys 20% of its gas from Qatar, and like the US earns billions annually in arms sales to the same Saudi Arabia state that dragged a journalist into their embassy and brutally murdered him.
There is a long way to go for worker conditions to be met, and even if they are they will never make up for the awful number of deaths already, but the very kafala system designed to strip migrant workers of all rights to change employment or leave the country without their employer’s permission was a creation of the British Empire that was also introduced in the 1960s in Qatar itself. Remember, this is a country that still only counts around 10% of its resident population as native citizens – someone’s got to extract and sell that gas.
Qatar was the first Arab Gulf country to abolish this system in September 2020, and the second to introduce a minimum wage for migrant workers (that’s according to Human Rights Watch, before you scream “Qatari lies!”). You probably didn’t know this, because which western media outlet in their right mind would give an ounce of oxygen to combat the narrative? It is a million miles from acceptable conditions still, but if reporting is reporting and not agenda-peddling propaganda, all sides must be told faithfully.
Monday 21 November
England 6-2 Iran
Senegal 0-2 Netherlands
USA 1-1 Wales
One Love fizzles out
Numerous protests against the human rights record in Qatar before the tournament took; Norway’s men’s national team wore t-shirts before fixtures broadcasting their opposition to the abuses reported (cynics would say they chose not to qualify – pretty effective way to boycott the whole show), club fans in Germany held up banners urging a boycott, while Gary Neville bravely accepted a megabucks offer from Qatari state broadcaster BeIN Sports to continue his crusade as The People’s Champion (even happily sharing a sofa with exiled misogynists Andy Gray & Richard Keys, as well as the same John Terry who racially abused his former teammate Rio Ferdinand’s brother).
To be fair to Neville, he did at least try and rant against The Issues – only for his Qatari employers to delete evidence of his “blistering tirade” against *checks notes* Qatar.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands announced plans for their captain to wear an armband celebrating the LGBTQ+ community with a rainbow logo entitled One Love. England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland joined them in promising to take the same bold stand. Ufff, that’ll teach those Muslims to change their oppressive religious morality.
Except it didn’t even do that. Remember that Infantino chap we mentioned earlier? The one who “feels gay”? He (cough, local organizers, cough) ordered a FIFA directive threatening sanctions including bookings for players who wore the One Love armband under the broad umbrella of existing laws banning the broadcast of political messages during games. Surely those European moral standard bearers would stick by their pledge to take a stand in the name of LGBTQ+ rights?
Nope. It turns out a booking is more important to all them than defending the moral issues they insist are so important to them. It’s almost as if they are signalling virtue…
Don’t worry though; the BBC’s Alex Scott bravely wore the very armband that grown men were too scared to wear while broadcasting live on air in her stand against Qatar’s anti-LGBTQ+ laws. This is the same Alex Scott, by the way, who holidayed last New Year in Dubai… which has anti-LGBTQ+ laws.
Good Guy Grealish
No snarky comments on this one – just pure feel-good factor. As England completed Scorigami by thrashing Iran 6-2, Jack Grealish celebrated his goal by delivering a Daniel Sturridge-eqsue double arm wiggle after an incredibly selfless assist from Callum Wilson, who had raced clear on goal but resisted the temptation to smash his effort in favour of setting his teammate up for an even better chance.
Wilson’s cool head and team-first attitude would be heartening enough, but the celebration itself was far better. Earlier this season Grealish had received a letter from an 11-year-old Manchester City fan with cerebral palsy recognising the 100mn pound star’s humanity supporting his own sister who also suffers from the condition, and thanking him for inspiring positivity and inclusivity. The pair met up for a chat which clearly meant the world to the young lad – who, before they parted, made Grealish promise to perform the arm-waving celebration.
Skip forward to Monday, and Grealish was as good as his word. We love that.
Tuesday 22 November
Argentina 1-2 Saudi Arabia
Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Mexico 0-0 Poland
France 4-1 Australia
Saudi Arabia STUNNER
Wait… what? No we haven’t been on the vodka, that scoreline really happened. Safe to say absolutely NOBODY saw that result coming. Messi scored early on, Argentina tore through Saudi Arabia’s high defensive line three more time to score before half time, only to see all of those scratched off for marginal (but correct) VAR offside decisions.
An adventurous gameplan, confidence on the ball, and a manager so ludicrously handsome and suave – and who apparently is the spitting image of some bloke off Game of Thrones – and hey presto: only a second World Cup finals win in 12 attempts.
We spoke to The Asian Game’s Martin Lowe to understand more about exactly how they managed to pull it off – you can read the interview HERE.
Wednesday 23 November
Morocco 0-0 Croatia
Germany 1-2 Japan
Spain 7-0 Costa Rica
Belgium 1-0 Canada
Anything you can do, I can do better…
Alright Asia, calm down… not happy with one monumental shock against a global powerhouse with Saudi Arabia’s stunning comeback against Argentina, Japan took on Germany and repeated the feat. Even Australia took a shock lead in last night’s late game. What the hell are they feeding their players??
As a tidy retrospective, we spoke to author Danny Lewis about his book that covered what had previously been Asia grandest moment in World Cup folklore – the 2002 World Cup hosted by germany-conquering Japan and South Korea, who somehow made it all the way to the semi-finals, becoming only the second side from outside Europe or South America to make the last four since 1930.
Read all about his book here, and then go buy buy HERE.
M’lud, I DO protest
A significant part of this thread is going to be dominated by off-field issues – it’s just that tournament, much as many would love World Cups to be purely about the football itself – and today is no different. First up: Germany. AGAIN, you say? Yes we are a mostly English editorial staff here at HoF, but we’re not making this up for fun; after the One Love armband debacle of FIFA threatening the awful punishment of a yellow card for standing up for people threatened in real life for their sexuality, we saw all seven countries that had promised to wear it cave at the first sign of trouble.
Roy Keane rightly argued they should have gone ahead anyway if they really meant it, even if just for one match, as it would surely have carried some weight. Now you may have noticed a slant on the reporting of how the teams responded; it has casually been morphed from choosing not to wear the armband, to being banned from wearing it. Good try lads, but that change of phrase doesn’t absolve you of blame. You won’t get gay people slapping you on the back for giving it a bloody good go.
Before their match against Japan today, Germany’s players lined up for their pre-match photo and covered their mouths to signify that they felt they had been silenced. NO YOU WEREN’T! You caved. There were reportedly other ‘sanctions’ on the table as well as the threat of a booking, such as preventing captains wearing the offending armband from playing, or banning them further down the line. What did they expect, a free lunch and a pat on the back for solving LGBTQ rights? A flimsy protest is arguably worse than none, as it casts the cause apparently being fought for in even starker contrast to greater priorities.
Great Danes quit UEFA??
One of the other brave-but-not-quite-brave-enough nations in the #OneLove furore was Denmark. Now this one is just plain crazy; news broke today that the Danish authorities are considering withdrawing their entire membership from FIFA alongside other UEFA member countries over Armbandgate, and planned to discuss the move with all 55 other UEFA members.
Firstly, you’re not a member of FIFA fellas, because you’re a country – not a federation. One rung down on the ladder. Secondly, what would this achieve if you did persuade UEFA – who actually are a member of FIFA – to leave the world governing body? A mass exodus and presumably then a breakaway rival organisation could possibly, eventually, remove FIFA from the picture, but be realistic – would you realistically expect to persuade a majority of the 211 current FIFA members to join you, which would surely be necessary to make a real change? Would that situation even help, or would it in fact divide the world even more?
So this announcement, that Danish FA (DBU) Chairman Jesper Moller claims has been mooted among Scandinavian countries since August, starts to smell very much of virtue signalling; a gesture that carries no actual weight, but screams hey! Look at us and what we say we are going to stand for (but won’t when the going gets tough).
Reforming FIFA completely clearly needs to happen, but how do you do that? Cutting out the corruption is only likely to happen if the power to corrupt executives with is taken away. Bids to host major tournaments are the major currency (aside the one that banknotes in shady brown envelopes in private hotel rooms carry) in the corridors of footballing power, so at Heart of Football we humbly suggest the filthy moral vacuum that is nestled in that ghastly Zurich building is relieved of that power at least. Anyone but Sepp Blatter, Jack Warner, Chuck Blazer, Joao Havelange, Jerome Valcke, Michel Platini, Gianni Infantino, Mohammed bin Hammam, Ricardo Texeira, Nicolas Leoz, Franz Beckenbauer, Issa Hayatou… Anyone actually left?
Japan sweep up, wipe the floor etc AGAIN
Japanese fans and footballers have long garnered a lot of neutral support for their respect on the terraces and in changing rooms – during the last World Cup Blue Samurai fans were widely seen clearing up the terraces after themselves and others, much to the baffled amazement of of the rest of us who are used to chucking packets and waste at our feet during games.
Now you could surely forgive the men’s side for losing their composure and celebrating wildly after dismantling Germany, and perhaps staggering out of the dressing room with some sign of excess left behind. Nope… the FIFA-released photo after they’d left shows a dressing room arguably even cleaner and tidier than before they arrived. Never change lads.
Not following the Herd(man)
careful John, comments like this might just come back to haunt you…
Gary Neville on the money…
If you’re going to completely sell out your principles and take Qatari state money to commentate on the World Cup after claiming you’re going to ask the hard-hitting questions, at least get your punditry right. Yes, ok, this upcoming opinion was broadcast while on ITV duty not for BeIn Sports, and with hindsight it is easy to tease what turned out to be an atrocious prediction, but to say the Spain side “is ok but has no goals in it” is just asking for them to bang in seven goals…
Thursday 24 November
Switzerland 1-0 Cameroon
Uruguay 0-0 South Korea
Portugal 3-2 Ghana
Brazil 2-0 Serbia
Stop hogging the goals and fun!
Has the tournament really lit up yet? it could be argued a few greedy sods are hogging all the fun for themselves; the Uruguay vs South Korea game was hardly a classic, reportedly becoming the first World Cup finals fixture since the turn of the century to end without a single shot on goals, and was the fourth goalless draw already in Qatar. At the 2018 World Cup, there was just one across the entire tournament…
Then there’s the faintly silly statistic that just three teams – England, Spain & France – were responsible for 17 goals, while the 29 other teams have so far managed 17 goals COMBINED.
John Fashanu slams One Love armband
Hmm… this is an interesting twist. John Fashanu is a well-spoken chap – fans of mid-90s family TV will always fondly recall his slick presenting of Gladiators – and puts his silver tongue to use here in slagging off the One Love armband that has already whipped up a ton of controversy. “What’s that got to do with football?” he moans, missing the target so spectacularly you’d be forgiven if he ever scored as a player.
“You’d like to think everyone would adhere to the rules and regulations of the country,” he adds. Before you bash him for that, it ought to be pointed out that there is a slither of sense to respecting the customs of a host if you choose to travel somewhere; it could be argued that if that is too much for you – which is quite clearly a justifiable standpoint – either don’t go, or direct at least some of your ire towards the powers that awarded the World Cup to a country where homosexuality is outlawed in the first place.
This is not a black and white issue where you can only hone in on one aspect of the debate – it is a spectrum with many elements. Whether people like it or not, there are many cultures around the world in which values, rules and customs are markedly different from others. While it appalling to westerners that a person can be jailed simply for their sexuality, it is a preservation of conservative society to others.
Quick reminder: as The Athletic’s Adam Crafton pointed out, this is the same John Fashanu whose brother Justin hung himself over the homophobic abuse he received, the same John Fashanu who tried to pay Justin off to the tune of £75k to not come out, and the same John Fashanu who did an interview entitled “My Gay Brother Is An Outcast”.
We’re all Cameroon aren’t we?
hard not to be after this infectious vibe…
Friday 25 November
Wales 0-2 Iran
Qatar 1-3 Senegal
Netherlands 1-1 Ecuador
England 0-0 USA
Israeli journalist mobbed by… Iranian fans??
It’s not all doom and gloom off the pitch. Heart of Football’s friend Uri Levy has been busy reporting around the grounds for Israeli channel Kann 11, and his work took him to Wales vs Iran. Now, without wanting to go too deep into Israeli-Iranian relations, even the most superficial knowledge of world politics would know those two countries are not officially best buds to put it lightly.
When Uri began his live segment surrounded by fans waving the Iranian flag, you could have been forgiven for fearing an unsavoury reaction. This, however, is what unfolded… you might even say One Love.
Sky Sports left red-faced by Wales fans
It’s hard to beat these 13 seconds for epic failure…
USA vs England: Roberto Rojas interview
HUGE GAME! Epic rivalry! Well, not quite as straight forward as that, as we found out by speaking to Paraguayan-American sports journalist Roberto Rojas.
Read his views HERE.
Confusing rainbow messages
FIFA reportedly relented on the stringent crackdown on any remotely rainbow-related clothing or insignia by claiming that fans would no longer be stopped for displaying the LGBTQ colours. Wow, was this real progress for those campaigning for change?
The BBC’s Natalie Pirks arrived to report on the USA vs England match, only for her cameraman to be stopped because he was wearing a rainbow watch (not a £500,000 Rolex like Harry Kane’s, in fairness). So… which is it?
Saturday 26 November
Tunisia 0-1 Australia
Poland 2-0 Saudi Arabia
France 2-1 Denmark
Argentina 2-0 Mexico
Croatia Herd Canada loud and clear
It was never going to end well after Canada’s coach fumed after his side’s narrow 1-0 loss to Belgium, promising that his boys would f*** Croatia… It earned him a starring role on the front cover of some Croatian media in a, ahem, less than flattering pose… We don’t speak Croatian, but we don’t think much of a translation is necessary here.
Sunday 27 November
Japan 0-1 Costa Rica
Belgium 0-2 Morocco
Croatia 4-1 Canada
Spain 1-1 Germany
Klinsmann dives headlong into Iranian culture row
After the Wales vs Iran game saw a considerable amount of tension boil over, Jurgen Klinsmann made some thoughtless remarks about Carlos Queiroz’s side suggesting that it was “in their culture” to bend the rules, play-act, and time-waste. This is the man who made his own celebration mocking his tendency to dive, in case you forgot.
Queiroz didn’t take too kindly to it, to put it mildly, effectively accusing him of racism and urging him to quit from his Qatar 2022 Technical Study Group. It took Klinsmann a while to apologise, and when he did it came across as a little short-changed.
Did he really feel contrition? Were his comments about Iranian culture simply a misinterpretation as he claimed, or did they carry undertones of European superiority sneering down at morally inferior Arab nations?
Monday 28 November
Cameroon 3-3 Serbia
South Korea 2-3 Ghana
Brazil 1-0 Switzerland
Portugal 2-0 Uruguay
Onana controversy… AGAIN
Wow! some absolute crackers today, starting off with that explosive 3-3 draw between Cameroon and Serbia. One person who didn’t take part was Andre Onana – who was dogged by a drugs ban he swore innocence over last year – after the Internazionale keeper was sent home from the World Cup for “disciplinary reasons”.
Speculation even suggested it was due to his clashes with manager Rigobert Song over how far out of his penalty area he strayed – of his 61 touches of the ball during the 1-0 defeat by Switzerland last Thursday, 26 came outside the box – but either way, he was once again blocked from playing. Safe pair of hands Andre?
Triple whammy pitch invader
Cristiano Ronaldo does not like to be upstaged, but he was for more than one reason in his side’s win over Uruguay. Midway through the match a daring invader somehow made it past FIFA-approved security right through the middle of the pitch. Firstly, he showed more movement off the ball than the perma-tanned self-obsessed clubless wonder has in years to even make it onto the field of play, Secondly, he was waving a rainbow flag (which by now you should now full well are a little touchy in this part of the world…). Thirdly, his Superman logo t-shirt read “Save Ukraine” on the front, and Respect For Iranian Women on the back.
No Feed the World wristband? it turned out he was a former professional player in India, and recently has driven to the Ukrainian border to help Ukrainian refugees escape their homeland.
Cristiano equals Eusebio record! Or does he? Adidas, FIFA, humans with functioning eyes say no, Portugal FA and Cristiano say yes…
Bruno Fernandes represents a lot of things that Cristiano Ronaldo does not. He produces moments for his team, works hard on team unity, and cares a little about other people. When he appeared to avoid a warm embrace with Cristiano when meeting up with the rest of the Portugal squad pre-tournment after his now ex-teammate released a puff piece ‘bombshell’ interview with personal cheerleader Piers Morgan, fissures appeared to be widening; nevertheless, Bruno’s free-kick curled invitingly towards Cristiano just after half time, and in it went – cue wild celebrations from the Portugal captain.
This is a man obsessed with personal accolades, and he had already become the first men’s player to score in five different World Cup tournaments, but this goal put him level with Eusebio as Portugal’s all-time top scorer in World Cup finals. One problem; he didn’t actually touch it. The stadium announcer allegedly gave the goal to Fernandes, and replays showed it missing his perfectly coiffed barnet.
Oh the irony – if he had a more careless teenager haircut like Joao Felix, he might actually have been able to claim a touch, but as Adidas ball technology proved afterwards, it didn’t actually make contact on its way into the net.
To top it all off, a penalty was awarded to Portugal in added time that would have definitively allowed him to claim his milestone… but he’d been subbed off by that stage leaving none other than Bruno to score again.
Tuesday 29 November
Ecuador 1-2 Senegal
Netherlands 2-0 Qatar