17 days of football and 52 matches later, we now have time to reflect on the World Cup thus far. There can be no denying that the Group Stages and the first round of knockouts has been thrilling and utterly breathtaking; whether it be Morocco knocking out Spain on Penalties, Saudi Arabia beating Argentina on match day 3 or those 2 minutes when Costa Rica took the lead against Germany and they and Spain were momentarily knocked out of the Group Stage. Gianni Infantino is certainly happy about it.
Since day one, FIFA have tried to separate football from politics in this World Cup, repeatedly telling reporters and protestors to 'focus on the football' in the hope that it will emerge victorious and all will be forgotten in the form of Qatar's Human Rights abuses and dangerous LGBTQ+ laws.
Gianni Infantino Brands Group Stages as 'Best Ever'
Gianni Infantino's latest antics cement this narrative, but all the drama of the past two weeks makes it hard to disagree with him. Infantino has branded this Group Stage as the 'best ever' as he discussed Germany, Argentina, Spain and Brazil all suffering major upsets. He also pointed to the fact that this was the first time ever that there has been a country from every continent on the planet to reach the knockout stages.
“Well, there are no more small teams and no more big teams. The level is very, very equal. For the first time as well, national teams from all continents going to the knockout phase, for the first time in history. This shows that football is really becoming truly global.
We have already seen some great action on the field, which is the most important part of what you do.”
As expected, FIFA are relying on the football to 'take over' and for everybody to forget about Qatar's Human Rights abuses and their horrendous attitude towards members of the LGBTQ+ community, in the hope that any discussion about the World Cup will be centred around the remarkable football.
Is the football 'taking over' as Infantino would have hoped?
FIFA are helped by the fact that despite their promises, very few teams have spoken out about Qatar hosting the tournament since arriving. England were one of seven teams to back down from their 'OneLove' armband protest at the risk of receiving a yellow card as they fell at the first hurdle.
Germany were the only team to make any form of stand as they covered their mouths in a team photo before kick-off to reflect the fact they felt they have been silenced. When they then lost 2-1 to Japan, it was then suggested by millions online that their form of protest somehow distracted them from the match, rather than their poor set-up, and were then mocked.
Any mention of standing up to Qatar was quickly forgotten by teams and by pundits attending the tournament, much to the delight of FIFA, who will be using the riveting results as a cloak to hide behind.
For the football fans, it is important to enjoy the football. It is certainly one of the most open World Cups in recent history, with any number of teams capable of winning. It's hard to disagree with the proposition that this World Cup Group Stage has been the 'best ever', considering Japan beat Spain and Germany to top their group, Saudi Arabia overcame 500/1 odds to beat Argentina, Tunisia beat France and Cameroon left it late to grab a winner against favourites Brazil.
But it's important that the circumstances surrounding this World Cup aren't simply forgotten, as FIFA continue to hope
Worries lie in what will happen once the World Cup leaves Qatar after the Final on the 18th of December. As the world 'moves on' from the controversy of Qatar and all is forgotten, what will happen to members of the LGBTQ+ community in Qatar once the tournament ends, as their sexuality will still be illegal, and still punishable by imprisonment or even death.
And, if we focus on the football - as Infantino hails the Group Stages, why is he trying to get rid of their current format for a 48 team World Cup in 2026?
It may have been a great few weeks of football, but we cannot lose sight of the deliberate blind eyes turned to human rights and logic throughout this World Cup so far.