This was never going to be a traditional World Cup.
Breaking ground in the Middle East and played for the first time in the European winter, it is always going to look and feel different.
Qatar has been described by some as the most controversial World Cup tournament host, with criticism ranging from alleged corruption in the bidding process to a blatant disregard for human rights.
It is undoubtedly right to shine a light on the deaths and conditions endured by migrant workers to make this tournament happen, and LGBTQ and women’s rights as well, although some Qataris may wonder why their country has come under such intense criticism when countries with questionable Human rights records, or laws that curtail the freedoms of certain members of society, have also taken place in recent years in major sporting events.
The last World Cup was held in Russia, for example, a country that has made it illegal for anyone to promote same-sex relationships or suggest that non-heterosexual orientations are “normal.”
But the world is complex and full of contradictions, and hosting a major sporting event is about more than a country’s politics. It is also about its culture and its people, their hopes and their dreams.
In the last four weeks, this tiny Gulf state truly became a global village. Fans from all 32 teams, along with supporters from many other countries, mingled cheek by jowl in a way that was never possible in previous tournaments, which were spread over much larger geographical areas.
Sometimes it was hard to tell who was cheering for whom as processions of cheering fans would follow drummers through Souq Waqif, a market in downtown Doha, drunk only on the joy of the shared experience.
“The atmosphere here in Qatar is like a Moroccan wedding,” one supporter told CNN in the thick of the festivities. “When everyone is enjoying the music and singing, it’s like a big party.”
Morocco’s thrilling run to the semi-finals was a watershed moment for the sport, the first time a team from outside Europe and South America had made it to the final week in the tournament’s 92-year history.
But even before the Atlas Lions’ rousing victory against Portugal, it was already Africa’s most successful World Cup, as it was also for Asia, which saw three teams – Japan, South Korea and Australia – make it to the round of 16 For the first time ever. In 2005, the world governing body FIFA ratified Australia’s switch from the Oceania Football Confederation to the Asian Football Confederation.
There were certainly matches that will be remembered for years to come.
Saudi Arabia got a result for the ages, beating Argentina in their opening game, while Iran managed to shine despite the protests and violence in their homeland with admirable performances against Wales and the US.
It was a tournament in which the underdogs challenged the old world order, and won universal respect for doing so.
Moroccan supporter Bouker Benna told CNN that he believes the message of the World Cup was self-determination.
“You may be an underdog,” he said, “but if you do your job, you can achieve great, great things. That’s why [Morocco head coach] Walid Regragui is trying to prove. And this is what Morocco is trying to prove. ”
It is not unusual to see African fans rooting for other teams from their continent, but it was particularly striking to see the shared joy in Qatar, where CNN spoke to fans from Egypt, Syria, Sudan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Territories. , all cheering for Morocco in the later stages.
“If France is playing, you will only find French people supporting their team, never England or Germany behind them. And I don’t know why,” said Moroccan fan Adam Marzoug.
He continued: “That’s why it’s special for the Arab and Muslim and African countries. This is what makes us strong in every tournament, this is just the beginning. ”
His friend, Oumaima Amallah, added: “Despite all the political and historical problems, Muslims, Arabs and Africans love each other and they are like brothers and sisters and everyone is happy for us, as they would be happy for their own people. ”
It was almost poetic that Morocco overthrew two of its former colonizers, Spain and Portugal, and went toe-to-toe with a third, France. But every score settling was polite, with respect.
Supporters who spoke to CNN would always praise Qatar for hosting the World Cup and express gratitude and thanks for bringing it to the region.
And while there was surprise, even an outcry in some media establishments, when Budweiser vending stations were removed from the stadium concourses on the eve of the tournament, did anyone really miss the alcohol?
Certainly, many we spoke to, including former player-turned-broadcaster Ally McCoist, agreed that the atmosphere among the crowds was much more congenial.
We watched security personnel in the stadia respectively asking shirtless Argentina fans to cover themselves, humbly gesturing with their palms closed by their chests. Local customs were followed and cultures were exchanged. The sea of humanity that flowed from each stadium to the metro station was passed by a series of musicians and dancers.
What was once described as a culture clash felt more like a cultural exchange here in Qatar.
“We have to be open-minded,” said another Moroccan fan, David Hamriri, an engineer now working in Europe. “I am very rich, culturally, because I am open.
“We have emotions,” he continued, “we have many conflicts in the world. But when we enjoy football, we forget the problem. We forget the economic crisis, and we return to the beginning. A value of humanity, shared between the Occidental and Oriental society. I find it amazing.”
The fans to CNN spoke to leave Qatar with positive memories of their experiences.
England fan Theo Ogden, who attended all 64 games of the tournament, told CNN: “People said you can’t hide it in the desert and they proved them wrong.
“They’ve been so welcoming. You won’t find a fan here who will say they’re having a bad time, and that’s because they’re so welcoming. I don’t think that’s talked about enough.”
Ogden may just be attempting his feat at the World Cup, where every stadium is just a metro or taxi ride away.
The landmass of the 2026 World Cup will be almost 2,000 times larger in the USA, Mexico and Canada. Qatar was able to turn the world’s most popular game into something much smaller, and it was all the better for it.
From the results on the field, to the experience on the ground. Qatar 2022 was memorable.
But we must not forget that there were members of the soccer community who refused to travel here, LGBTQ fans who felt that it was not safe for them to support their teams because of the Gulf state laws. Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and punishable by up to three years in prison.
LGBTQ rights were an issue that would not go away during the tournament as reports also emerged of security officials asking people to remove rainbow-colored items from their clothing – a symbol of LGBTQ pride.
FIFA’s decision to threaten sanctions for any player wearing a “onelove” armband, which features a heart with different colors to promote inclusion, has created a rift between the sport’s governing body and the seven European nations whose captains plan to wear it. .
The best photos of the 2022 World Cup
Two migrant workers have reportedly died during the World Cup – 24-year-old John Njue Kibue of Kenya who reportedly fell while on duty at Qatar’s Lusail Stadium and another worker who died at the resort used by Saudi Arabia during the group stages .
And it is difficult to confirm how many migrant workers died as a result of work done on projects connected to the tournament.
The football was compelling, yes, the atmosphere during the four weeks intoxicating, but for some this tournament came at a price and that should not be forgotten.