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Messi gestures during the Qatar 2022 World Cup trophy ceremony Image Credit: AFP

The recently concluded 2022 World Cup in Qatar was indeed a showpiece that was only topped off by the magnificence and intensity of the final played out between the previous World Cup winners France and the South American challengers Argentina looking for their first cup victory since 1986 after the legendary exploits of the incomparable Diego Maradona helped overcome a strong German team with the final score at 3-2 in Mexico.

This time around both teams featured world-class players, Lionel Messi for Argentina and Kylian Mbappe for France among others. Mbappe already had notched a World Cup victory in 2018 in Russia, whereas Messi was seeking his first one.

The sense of urgency that Messi and the Argentinian squad must have felt going into the game was tremendous as this was to be the last World Cup for the Argentinian superstar and the only accolade that had eluded him so far.

Argentina's Lionel Messi receives the World Cup trophy from FIFA President Gianni Infantino
Argentina's Lionel Messi receives the World Cup trophy from FIFA President Gianni Infantino as Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani looks on during the trophy ceremony after the final match between Argentina and France at Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Doha on December 18, 2022. Image Credit: AFP

The game was intense and for the most part, it looked like Argentina was in the driver’s seat. But the French squad would not give up and in a flurry, fired back the equaliser to send the game into overtime. 120 minutes passed and the game was still tied after each team had added a goal.

The players were visibly exhausted giving it their all. Tension was high in the air. In the penalty shoot-out, billions across the world held their breath wondering if indeed this was to be Messi’s night. And Lady Luck did not disappoint as Messi and Argentina moved on to victory through the penalty shoot-out.

At the victory podium with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani alongside French President Emmanuel Macron and FIFA President Gianni Infantino feted the referees and the teams. The loudest cheers were heard when Messi came up to receive his medal and Qatar Emir draped a gold-threaded Bisht across his shoulders, a mark of respect and acknowledgement for a world-class player.

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Messi gracefully accepted the gesture before being led to the pedestal on which the glittering World Cup in all its glory stood. He was handed the trophy and joined by his teammates, the trophy was hoisted in the air to tell the world it was Messi and Argentina’s night after a 36-long year drought.

This event was indeed a victory not just for the Argentinians but for Qatar and the region as well. It showed that we in the GCC are far more capable than being given credit for. Hosting a challenging event such as the World Cup and doing it without any untoward incident was indeed a testament to the commitment of the host nation.

You would think that after all of this there would have been accolades in the western press that had been constantly maligning Qatar for being awarded the rights for the 2022 World Cup.

A negative campaign 

But unfortunately, there was no let up be it in the printed or spoken media. Gary Lineker, a BBC sports presenter and former England footballer whined that “It seems a shame, in a way, that they’ve covered up Messi in his Argentina shirt.”

The British Telegraph went a step further calling the gifting of the Bisht “...bizarre act....” The New York Times said it was “Something a little strange about Messi being dressed in Bisht....” Fox Sports defined it as ‘Absolutely grim’ while Yahoo Sports termed it as ‘disgraceful’.

Hassan Al Thawadi, Secretary General of the Qatar organising committee replied that the Bisht was “a dress for an official occasion and worn for celebrations. This was a celebration of Messi.

The World Cup had the opportunity to showcase to the world our Arab and Muslim cultures. This was not about Qatar; it was a regional celebration.” Indeed it was and may I add that it was a global one as well.

Is it ignorance or disguised jealousy for anything Arab, achievement or otherwise that spurs the venom of these media people?

Or is it that the host country did not bend backward into allowing the Western press to dictate terms. Sections of the Western press went into a tizzy when alcoholic drinks were banned from the vicinity of stadiums to prevent large-scale hooliganism (as witnessed in many football cities over the UK and Europe).

Whatever the reason, nothing can take the shine of a near-perfect World Cup with a perfect ending. And a Merry Christmas and a Happy New year to all.

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena