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What Are The Biggest 2022 FIFA World Cup Storylines So Far?

From Kylian Mbappe thriving with France to Brazil playing with flair and joy, here are some of the biggest narratives from the World Cup in Qatar to date.

By Andrew Woodin
L-R) Przemyslaw Frankowski of Poland, Kylian Mbappe of France during the World Cup match between France v Poland

Oozing heart-pounding action from its every metaphorical pore, the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar has gifted footy fans across the globe a barrage of drama-laced narratives this holiday season, tantalizing enough to put a smile on even the Scroogiest among us, but with such an embarrassment of riches to choose from, which storylines should you focus on? Well, since you’re busy tinkering with Mammy’s secret eggnog recipe – spoiler alert, it’s whiskey, cream and eggs – we’ll save your brain from melting down as we highlight the biggest storylines from the World Cup so far.

Mbappé Shines

While he already possesses one World Cup in his trophy cabinet, France’s 23-year-old sensational forward Kylian Mbappé has been terrorizing defenses in Qatar, racing speedily toward winning the competition’s Golden Boot as he already has notched a tournament best five goals in four games – two more than Argentina’s Lionel Messi and England’s Marcus Rashford who each have a pair. As his elite form, superhuman agility and decisive playmaking ability continue to propel Les Bleus forward, with no signs of slowing down, Mbappé next faces a stout England squad that could be the ultimate opportunity to cement his name in the pantheon of World Cup legends.

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Brazil Dancing Their Way to Glory

Players of Brazil celebrate at the end of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Round of 16 match between Brazil and South Korea

If it wasn’t clear, no one is having more fun in Qatar than the Brazil squad. Watching players like Neymar, Vinicius Jr., Raphinha and Richarlison strut their stuff during their goal-scoring celebrations has been nothing short of a true delight, even garnering the adulation from the saltiest of Argentina, Germany and England fans. It’s clear the players genuinely love playing with one another, and their dancing is the exact, pure and unadulterated fun needed to brighten up the Qatar-based tournament.

OneLove Armband Debacle

One Love bracelet pictured ahead of a soccer game between Belgium's national team the Red Devils and Canada, in Group F of the FIFA 2022 World Cup

After declaring “all are welcome” at the World Cup in Qatar – a country where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by up to seven years in prison – FIFA brass’ anger-inducing decision to threaten sanctions, including yellow cards, to any team captains wearing the OneLove LGBTQ rights armband came as a disheartening shock to millions around the globe. What was supposed to highlight and promote a message of unity and equality no matter of one’s sexual orientation is gone, and the armband’s absence at the World Cup will go down in history as another embarrassment for FIFA.

Beer Please?

A Denmark fan carries beer to his seat prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group D match between France and Denmark

Despite Budweiser being one of the World Cup’s most prominent sponsors, Qatar, a Muslim country that frowns upon imbibing, made an abrupt decision two days before the tournament began to reverse its previous decision and ban beer sales at all venues, motivating throngs of thirsty fans like those from Ecuador to chant “We want beer!” during their squad’s opening match. While alcohol is still allowed in a select few of designated fan zones and hotels, it’s expensive to say the least. While there’s plenty of saucy drama to partake in without getting sauced, the Qatar Distribution Company (Q.D.C.) is the one boozy lifeline for those needing adult refreshment. That said, its restricted access means it’s not open to everyone as you must have a highly coveted permit to enter its hallowed, razor wire-encased grounds. This has led to a robust black market with everything from fermented fruit concoctions to chemically enhanced hard spirits, as reported by the New York Times.

Ronaldo Drama

Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal sits on the bench before the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Round of 16 match between Portugal and Switzerland

What would international footy be without some obnoxious drama from the ever-embittered Cristiano Ronaldo? In one word, delightful, but that’s not happening in Qatar. Coming hot off Premier League’s fabled club Manchester United kicking his tush out of Dodge, Portugal’s former talisman is back to his old antics, alienating himself this time from his native squad. During Portugal’s match against South Korea, CR7 reacted angrily after his coach Fernando Santos pulled him midway through the second half, gesturing with a finger to his lips as he sulked off the field. Santos has said that, while he didn’t hear what Ronaldo may have said under his breath, he “really didn’t like” the images that subsequently filtered out, and as punishment, Santos benched the beleaguered legend ahead of Portugal’s quarterfinal match against Switzerland. Ironically, Gonçalo Ramos, who was subbed in for Ronaldo during the South Korea match, proved entirely up for the task against Switzerland, netting a hat trick. 

African and Asian Countries Seizing the Moment

Hakim Ziyech and Yahya Attiat-Allah of Morocco celebrate during the penalty shootout in the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Round of 16 match between Morocco and Spain

Teams from African and Asian countries have secured five spots in the Round of 16, declaring on footy’s biggest stage they are no longer pushovers. Japan has ascended into true hero status, valiantly slaying both Germany and Spain while Morocco spoiled Kevin De Bruyne’s quest for a World Cup by sending Belgium home early, then ousting Spain on penalties in the Round of 16. Even Saudi Arabia joined the underdog narrative by defeating Lionel Messi and Argentina in the Group Stage, just as Cameroon made history by upstaging the Brazilians. As more regional federations are sending their best players to compete in the elite European leagues, the competitive gap on the international stage certainly appears to be closing. Now that these squads have garnered the respect of footy fans and their adversaries across the world, their hopes of achieving eternal glory in future World Cups seems like only a matter of time.

Can't get enough soccer action? When the World Cup ends, watch Premier League coverage on USA Network, featuring Premier League Mornings, select matches, and Premier League Goal Zone (check listings for games/schedule). And catch up on all the action on Peacock.

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