World Cup Qatar 2022 (For Dummies)

An overview of the tournament so far, and some of the controversy that surrounds it.


Anna Stiffler (they/them), Staff Writer

The first game of the 2022 World Cup, hosted by Qatar, kicked off on Nov. 20. Soccer lovers all across the world flocked to TV screens to cheer on their favorite teams. Yet for those less exuberant about soccer, the World Cup can be confusing.

Emma Scott and Andy Orrego share this sentiment. Scott doesn’t follow the world cup but her family does. “[I wish I knew] Who’s doing better than other people,” said Scott. Orrego agreed, wishing they could know “the basic rules of what’s happening.”

So how does the world cup work? After 32 teams qualify for the group stage, they are divided into 8 groups of four, where they play each of the other teams [in their group] to gain points. Points are determined by the outcome of the game. Winning earns 3 points, 1 for a draw and none for a loss. For a team to advance to the next stage, knockouts, they must have the highest or second-highest score in their group. In case of a tie between points, goal differential is used to determine the winner.  

The knockouts are bracketed rounds of “sudden death.” If you lose a game, you’re out of the competition. The initial round of brackets are determined by position in the group round—first-place teams play second-place teams. This narrows the 16 teams down to 8 [the quarter finals] and then 4 [the semi finals] and finally a third-place play-off and final, which will be played on December 18.

So what does this mean for the USA team? In the group round stage, we were in group B with England, Iran and Wales. With a total of five points, from one win and two draws, we were the second-place team, two points behind England. This sent Iran and Wales home, meaning we advanced to the knockouts where we played the Netherlands, the winner of group A. However, that was the end of the road for Team USA as they lost to Netherlands 3-1.

The deciding game that allowed the USA team to advance was played on Nov. 29  against Iran, where the USA won 1-0. The winning goal was scored by Christian Pulisic. For Brinnan Smith, a soccer enthusiast and senior at Ida B. Wells, it was the highlight of the World Cup so far. “Because that’s what sent us through to the round of 16 that will probably go down as one of the most historic goals in men’s national team in history,” said Smith.

If you want to know more than just the basic structure of the game it is helpful to know some of the players’ names. Some of the most famous and well-known names are Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, (Neymar.) These three players have dominated Soccer headlines for the past decade(s.)

Messi is an Argentine forward player, who has scored the most international goals of any Argentinian player. Ronaldo and Neymar are forward players like Messi. Ronaldo plays for Portugal and is the only person to have scored a goal in five different world cups. Neymar plays for Brazil and is “chasing” Pelé’s record for most international goals for a Brazilian player.

It hasn’t just been old names in this world cup either. There are several “new guards,” or new players, coming into their prime. This includes Kylian Mbappé, who is playing for France, and Son Heung-min (Son) who plays for South Korea. Both are forward players. 

Mbappé helped France win the last World Cup 4 years ago. This year, Mbappé has continued to score goals with grace and composure even under the pressure that is the world cup. He is also in line to receive the Golden Boot, which is given to the player who scores the most goals overall. Son suffered an injury prior to the world cup, so he is playing with a protective mask. He made an assist off a breakaway in South Korea’s game against Portugal, leading them to an unexpected victory

What about US players? Besides Pulisic, who scored the winning goal in the Iran/ USA game, there is also Timothy Weah and Sengiño Dest. All three of these players have dual citizenship yet chose to play for Team USA. 

Pulisic could’ve played for Croatia, but chose the USA instead. While he is considered a US star, Pulisic plays for Chelsea FC in the English Premier League. Weah could’ve played for three teams—USA, France and Liberia. His father was also a famous soccer player and the president of Liberia. Dest could’ve played for the USA or Netherlands. He faced and lost to his “other country” in the first round of knockouts.

This World Cup is a little different from the past. Qatar will be the first Nation in the Middle East to host the world cup, which has led to some unique challenges. Typically it is held in June or July, but because of the extreme weather temperatures, it was pushed out to Nov. / Dec. when the weather is cooler. 

There is also controversy surrounding the games. Qatar was accused of bribing FIFA officials $3.7 million to convince them that they should host the games. After a two-year investigation, the allegations were cleared.

 Many fans who’ve traveled to Qatar are upset that alcohol is not being sold in the stadium. Instead, non-alcoholic beer is being sold. While this restriction was put in place, it doesn’t prevent some private vendors from selling alcoholic beverages. Those who are drunk are put into a special section in the stadiums.

The games are being held in 8 different stadiums, 7 of which were built new. Even a new city’s creation was fast-tracked in preparation for the 1.5 million fans attending the games.  Qatar’s economy relies heavily on the labor of migrant workers who make up about 90 percent of the workforce, and this was no different for the creation of this infrastructure. While there is a disagreement between Qatari authorities and human rights investigators about how many people died during the construction process, it’s somewhere in the hundreds or thousands. These deaths can be credited to poor working and living conditions, strenuous work in extreme heat, as well as being lied to about pay.

Several of Qatar’s laws criminalize LGBTQ people, and most target gay men. Being “caught or discovered” could lead to fines, up to seven years in jail, and potentially death. The World Cup has highlighted these anti-LGBTQ policies. Team captains of several European teams had planned to wear OneLove rainbow armbands but decided against it when FIFA pushed back saying they would penalize anyone who wore the band. 

The World Cup has always been encompassed with excitement, and this proves to be no different for World Cup 2022, Qatar. This can be credited to the fact that the United States didn’t attend the 2018 games and unexpected losses from teams that typically win. 

“It’s been a pretty crazy time,” said Smith. “A couple of big superpowers have already been knocked out, so it’s definitely anybody’s game. There’s been a lot of upsets. It’s been not what people have expected so far.”

Smith is referring to the fact that historically the World Cup has been dominated by European and South American teams. Yet this year, the pattern has been unpredictably shaken. Morocco, Japan, S. Korea, Australia and Senegal all unexpectedly advanced from their groups. This advancement was at the expense of traditional world cup powerhouses like Germany, Belgium, Uruguay and Mexico who all failed to qualify for the knock-out stage.

While there may be “new” teams, one thing that can’t be debated is offside calls. New technology is aiding referees and match officials in making calls. Attached to the stadium roof, 12 cameras track the ball and players up to 50 times per second. Able to collect 29 points of data on each player, it can calculate players’ exact position on the field at every moment. This information is then used to make offsides calls. After an offsides call is approved, an animation is shown for fans, both in-stadium and at home, to show why the offsides call was made.

The world cup isn’t over yet, and even with Team USA out of the competition, excitement and anticipation of the games to come is present. “Keep watching the World Cup even if you’re not a fan of soccer,” said Smith. “It’s the greatest tournament in sports.”