High-quality football pushing political issues to the margins
Qatar forward Akram Afif (centre) is pressured by Senegal's midfielder Idrissa Gana Gueye (left) and Senegal defender Youssouf Sabaly during their Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A match at the Al-Thumama Stadium in Doha on Friday. (Photo:: AFP)

For long periods Friday, the USA's football team looked on the verge of repeating the heroics of 1950. Back then a band of unknown amateurs and immigrants humbled mighty England 1-0 in the first round of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

In the end, Friday's 0-0 draw in the 2022 World Cup in the small, but extremely wealthy Persian Gulf State of Qatar surely came as great relief for the English who had dominated Iran 6-2 on Monday.

Indeed, for neutrals watching on TV, a USA victory on Friday would have been deserved. Incredibly, had the Americans won it wouldn't have been the biggest on-field shock in the just under-week-old tournament. Honours go to Saudi Arabia who stunned Mr Lionel Messi's Argentina 2-1 on Tuesday, easily one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history.

And, as if that were not enough, on Wednesday, Japan — beaten by Jamaica in this country's only World Cup campaign in 1998 — showed the extent of their growth over the last 24 years by stopping four-time World Cup champions Germany. Like the Saudis, the Japanese came from behind in the second half to win 2-1.

For the many Jamaicans supporting Brazil, nerves were settled on Thursday when the South Americans, stylishly composed and assured, cruised past Serbia 2-0. On another day the margin of victory could have been doubled.

The most dominant performance undoubtedly came from youthful, highly talented Spain, who brushed aside ageing CONCACAF representative Costa Rica 7-0 on Wednesday.

Yet, despite the disappointing showing by Costa Rica in that, their first game, CONCACAF can take pride from the performances of Mexico, who drew with Poland and will face desperate Argentina today; Canada, who lost 0-1 to Belgium, but will justifiably feel they deserved at least a draw; and, of course, the USA, who drew with Wales on Monday before Friday's much-improved performance.

After a slow start, African countries got going on Friday with Senegal easily disposing of Qatar 3-1, effectively putting an end to any hopes the host nation had of qualifying to the Round of 16. In Sunday's opening game of the tournament Qatar were outclassed by Ecuador, beaten 2-0.

Having spent hundreds of billions of US dollars on overall tournament preparations, including stadia, the hosts, rich in fossil fuel resources, will feel aggrieved that their team have done as poorly. But even with fallout from controversies having to do with their conservative Islamic rules governing such matters as gender, sexual orientation, and even alcohol, the Qataris can feel pleased about the general organisation of the World Cup thus far.

For those of us watching on TV, the playing surfaces appear to be perfect. And all reports suggest that this is the most hi-tech World Cup ever by a long distance, with artificial intelligence adding significantly to the accuracy of officiating.

Such are the vagaries of life that a penalty call which was not referred to technology, spurred immense controversy on Thursday with Portugal being the beneficiary in a 3-2 win over Ghana.

Beyond all that, the factor which has perhaps done most to push the political issues to the margins in Qatar is the high quality of football.

The world waits for more.

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