By Amy Woodyatt, CNN
This year’s World Cup was a tournament of firsts — the first to be held in the Middle East, the first to be held in November-December and the first where a woman refereed a men’s World Cup match.
From surprise victories, to tears and spectacular goals, this tournament will stick in the memory. Here are some of the most memorable moments of the 2022 World Cup.
Gianni Infantino’s extraordinary first impression
On the eve of the tournament, FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s extraordinary tirade during a press conference made headlines around the world. In an explosive hour-long monologue, he accused Western critics of hypocrisy and racism.
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The tournament has been mired in controversy, with much of the build-up focusing on human rights, from the death of migrant workers and the conditions many have endured in Qatar, to LGBTQ and women’s rights.
“We are taught many lessons from Europeans, from the Western world,” Infantino said, referring to criticisms of Qatar’s human rights record.
“What we Europeans have been doing for the last 3,000 years, we should be apologizing for the next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons.”
The FIFA president went on to say he knew what it felt like to be discriminated against, saying he was bullied as a child for having red hair and freckles.
“Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel a migrant worker,” he told a stunned audience.
His comments were described by human rights groups as “crass” and an “insult” to migrant workers.
Morocco makes history
This World Cup will stay in the collective memory as a tournament of upsets. This year, Morocco’s Atlas Lions ripped up the history books by becoming the first African country to reach the final four of the tournament — beating European heavyweights Belgium, Spain and Portugal in the process.
Their run — ended by a 2-0 defeat to France — upended all expectations. Morocco won its first World Cup match since 1998 — and its third ever — by securing a sensational 2-0 victory over Belgium, knocking the world’s second-ranked team out of the competition.
Things only got better for Atlas Lions from there: A draw against the 2018 finalists Croatia, and another victory against Canada saw the Lions roar to the top of their group. Images of the coach Walid Regragui being tossed joyfully into the air — and the players prostrating on the turf in prayer — have become iconic, not only to Africans and Arabs from across the globe, but to everyone who loves to root for an underdog.
This, of course, hasn’t been lost on the team itself. After Morocco defeated Portugal, Regragui compared his team to “Rocky.”
“We have made our people and our continent so happy and proud. When you watch ‘Rocky,’ you want to support Rocky Balboa and I think we are the ‘Rocky’ of this World Cup,” said Regragui. “I think now the world is with Morocco.”
Saudi Arabia beats Argentina
In perhaps the most unexpected upset of the tournament, Saudi Arabia beat two-time World Cup winner Argentina in a jaw dropping Group C match.
Led by Lionel Messi, and ranked third in the world, many had expected Argentina to sweep aside Saudi Arabia, especially as Argentina was unbeaten for three years and among the favorites to win the tournament prior to kickoff, while 48 places separated the two teams in the world rankings.
But what would a World Cup be without a “did that just happen?” moment?
Argentina captain Messi scored an early penalty to put his side in the lead, but two second-half goals from Saleh Al-Shehri and Salem Al Dawsari turned the game on its head — and were the catalyst for an outburst of joy from the Saudi fans.
Especially one ecstatic man, who tore his door off its frame in exultation.
That’s one way to celebrate!
Germany loses to Japan
In another unexpected twist, the 2014 world champion Germany suffered a shock defeat to Japan on the opening day — ultimately setting the tone for a lackluster World Cup for the Germans.
Finishing bottom of the group at Russia 2018, a tournament Germany went into as defending champion, was a historic low for the four-time World Cup winner. It marked the first time in 80 years that the German national team had failed to advance to the knockout stages of the tournament.
This year, the squad were no doubt hoping for an improvement.
Germany dominated for large periods of the match against Japan and had plenty of opportunities to extend its lead after going up 1-0. But Japan rode its luck and was clinical when the chances arrived.
Ultimately, the team defeated Germany 2-1.
A second game against Spain earned the Germans a hard-fought draw — but despite beating Costa Rica 4-2 in their Group E finale, it wasn’t enough as Japan beat Spain 2-1 in its final group game to progress to the knockouts alongside the Spaniards, sending Germany home.
Referee makes history
Stéphanie Frappart made history this tournament as the first woman to referee a men’s World Cup match.
Alongside assistants Neuza Back from Brazil and Karen Diaz from Mexico, the Frenchwoman formed part of an all-female refereeing trio officiating Costa Rica vs. Germany in their Group E match.
“It’s a surprise, you cannot believe it and after two or three minutes, you realize that you are going to the World Cup. It’s amazing, not only for me, but also for my family and also for the French referees,” she tells CNN Sport.
Frappart’s World Cup debut is just another addition to her list of firsts: in 2019, she became the first female referee to take charge of a Ligue 1 match, in August 2019 the first to take charge of a major men’s European match, and in 2020, the first to officiate a men’s UEFA Champions League match.
Lionel Messi’s last dance
All eyes will undoubtedly be on Messi this Sunday as Argentina takes on France in the final. But the 35-year-old has already made history in this tournament, scoring in what was the 1,000th game of his storied career as Argentina beat Australia 2-1 to advance to the quarterfinals.
Captaining his national team for the 100th time, Messi ignited this last-16 match midway through the first half, curling home cutely after some neat build-up play — his 789th career goal.
Of course, Messi undoubtedly has his eyes on a bigger prize, and on Sunday he will have a final shot at winning the trophy, in front of some of the 40,000 Argentine fans estimated to have traveled to Qatar for this World Cup. Eight years ago, Messi and Argentina reached the World Cup final in Brazil, but were beaten 1-0 by Germany.
When asked whether Sunday’s game will be his last at a World Cup, Messi replied: “Yes. Surely yes. There’s a lot of years until the next one and I don’t think I have it in me and finishing like this is best.”
Ronaldo’s dashed dreams
This was likely to be Cristiano Ronaldo’s last World Cup. Instead of a glorious finale, the 37-year-old forward left the pitch in tears after Portugal had been defeated 1-0 by Morocco in the quarterfinals.
Unable to hide his emotions, Ronaldo was seen being escorted by a member of staff from the pitch at the Al Thumama Stadium to the Portugal team dressing room immediately after the defeat.
This wasn’t the only disappointment he faced in Qatar.
During Portugal’s clash with Uruguay, Ronaldo thought he’d leveled Portugal great Eusebio’s record as the nation’s all-time leading World Cup scorer.
His teammates bundled onto him in celebration, while commentators and pundits praised him for getting the slightest of touches on Bruno Fernandes’ cross to divert the ball past the Uruguayan goalkeeper.
Ronaldo had his second goal in as many games at the 2022 World Cup and his ninth for Portugal at World Cups. Or so we thought.
As the party atmosphere in the Lusail Iconic Stadium kicked up a notch, a surprising announcement was made by the stadium announcer.
The goal had in fact been given to Fernandes, not Ronaldo. Ouch.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom for Ronaldo though — as Portugal battled Ghana, Ronaldo became the first male player in history to score at five World Cups — a feat Brazilian striker Marta became the first player to achieve back in 2019.
The Brazilian team has been celebrating in style in Qatar. The team came into this tournament as the favorite to lift the trophy — but its three group games were stodgy affairs, and showed only brief flashes of the flair associated with Brazil over the years.
However, with a 4-1 win over South Korea, the team finally showed why they are normally so feared and revered — and showcased their dancing skills. That included some perfectly-timed choreographed moves as Brazil celebrated each of its four goals in style, even convincing head coach Tite to join in with Richarlison’s ‘pigeon dance’ for the third goal.
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Ben Church, Ben Morse, Issy Ronald, Matias Grez, George Ramsay and Sammy Mngqosini contributed reporting.