Qatar 2022: Hart on relentless France, VAR and media hypocrisy

“[…] What is noticeable is that repeated sprinting power is now a priority, with most players and teams are willing to run… France, Senegal and Japan are mobile and relentless—with France, in particular, suffocating their opposition’s midfield very effectively.

“[…] VAR, in my humble opinion, is killing the essence and spirit of the game… Offside now requires seven referees in a room with a laser line and has become a game of millimeters on a sleeve or heel…”

The following guest column on the Qatar 2022 World Cup was submitted to Wired868 by former Trinidad and Tobago and HFX Wanderers head coach Stephen Hart, a two-time Concacaf Gold Cup quarterfinalist with the Soca Warriors:

Senegal captain Kalidou Koulibaly (right) leads his teammates in a goal celebration during the Qatar 2022 World Cup.

This World Cup was always going to be strange because of its timing and the lack of preparation for teams. The inconsistency of play is evidence of this—from both and individual and collective perspective.

But there have been some fresh performances of players not really talked about before the World Cup.

KFC Munch Pack

Switzerland’s Breel Embolo, Ghana’s Mohammed Kudus, Japan’s Daizen Maeda, Cameroon’s Vincent Aboubakar, Germany’s Jamal Musiala, Morocco’s Youssef En-Nesyri and USA’s Yunus Musah have all shone in this tournament—to name a few.

The ball seems to be an issue though. Players appear to be struggling to strike it cleanly, with a high percentage of shots going over the bar while there were only three successful free kicks in the group stage.

France star Kylian Mbappe.

Tactically, we have seen a wide variety of playing shapes with teams playing three, four and five defenders at the back—often with a double in front.

Some teams, like France, defended the wide areas very effectively. Others like Australia and Poland, well aware of their strengths, could afford to give up the wide areas and simply defend the cross.

There has not been as much variation in building from that back as we see in club football—but this is understandable with the lack of preparation time. However, most teams are willing to play out of the back, with few keeping the ball in the central areas for any length of time.

The teams that build-up play well from the back tend to have central defenders who can play 20-30 yard passes between the lines. Spain’s Rodri and Aymeric Laporte and Switzerland’s Manuel Akanji, in particular, are very effective with this.

What is also interesting is the fact that playmakers now can be effective from a variety of positions—be they the aforementioned central defenders, holding midfielders like Sergio Busquets and Casimero, wide players like Son Heung-Min and Bernardo Silva, or traditional ‘number 10s’ like Dusan Tadic and Bruno Fernandez. They can all break the lines through effective passes.

Brazil midfielder Casemiro.

As expected, most teams have some form of pressing, whether full or half press, with counter-attacks the order of the day. What is noticeable is that repeated sprinting power is now a priority, with most players and teams are willing to run.

Mexico and Argentina both ran a whopping 105km each in their game. France, Senegal and Japan are mobile and relentless—with France, in particular, suffocating their opposition’s midfield very effectively.

Transition is the main focus. Teams that lose the ball are trying to win it back immediately, or are recovering in numbers. If this is not possible, tactical fouls are implemented to break their opponent’s rhythm—games are averaging 30+ fouls.


Argentina star Lionel Messi (left) celebrates with his teammates during the Qatar 2022 World Cup.

All things being equal, most of the games have come down to a piece of individual brilliance. We have seen that from Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Australia’s Mathew Leckie, as well as Kudus, En-Nesyri, Aboubakar and En-Nesyri.

Again nothing new here. However in the end I do believe we will see the usual suspects in the final eight.

Having said that the football displayed by Morocco and Senegal has been a joy to watch and I would love to see them go further. This World Cup had a very exciting group stage with nail-biting final games.

It reminds me so much of 2002, when Turkey, Senegal, Japan, South Korea, Mexico and USA advanced out the group stage, while Argentina, France, Uruguay and Portugal all went home early.

Saudi Arabia’s Salem Al-Dawsari (right) celebrates after scoring his side’s second goal during their 2022 World Cup group stage win over Argentina on 22 November 2022.
(Copyright AP Photo/ Natacha Pisarenko)

VAR, in my humble opinion, is killing the essence and spirit of the game. One does not know if to celebrate or not, it simply plays with emotions. Lets face it, even with VAR there are debates and controversy.

The game was designed to be officiated with the human eye. Offside now requires seven referees in a room with a laser line and has become a game of millimeters on a sleeve or heel.

Where does attempting to seek an advantage come in?

We have also seen several fouls for penalties not called, when clearly a foul has occurred—although I do like the fact that referees are being asked to make their own review of their original call.

Japan forward Kaoru Mitoma (top) crosses for a controversial winner against Spain during the 2022 World Cup group stage.

The only technology I like is the goal line technology.

Now that the knock out stage is upon us, I believe the coaches are correct in pointing out the dangers of a lack of rest.

Fans want to see the best players. For this to happen, they need to recover properly—especially now that it’s do or die.

Hypocrisy seems to be the order of the day from media, many of whom accepted jobs and travelled to Qatar. Some teams and individuals have attempted to make a political stance for one reason or the other. I find this somewhat hypocritical.

Fifa president Gianni Infantino (right) has defended Qatar’s behaviour as the 2022 World Cup host.

The host country has laws and customs, they should be respected. If you feel that strongly about human rights in the host country, stand up for what you believe and do not attend.

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One comment

  1. The “ball” being the issue is so odd, given the name of the game has “ball” in it (if you discount the alternate game given to it by Americans) – if the ball is their issue, they didn’t prepare at all – forget being well-prepared. It’s literally the one constant in every game…how do they do their job and yet not quite prepare to strike it, defend it and generally not make it an issue?

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