ANALYSIS | What Argentina have won is the Battle of the Cultures: Dlangalala

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The Battle of the Cultures has just ended. There were 32 nations and there is only one champion!

In preview of this tournament, I wrote, “From then on, only those with special players and who are also on form, will make it all the way. I would expect different teams, from the last four that we had in the last World Cup in Russia. From those four nations, I expect a different champion, not any from the last four World Cups. There will be no new name still on the cup. Whoever will win it, has won it before. That seems more a rule than an exception.”

There were 32, then there were two, and there was the winner, Argentina. But what Argentina – the country famously known for Dance the Tango within its culture – has won is not just a tournament but a Battle of the Cultures. Each nations brings to this stage their own culture, and those without any culture rush fall off and those with a very strong sense of identity make it.

The FIFA World Cup is only for those who understand themselves. Those who are proud of who they are. Those, whose natural attributes are the basis of their game and style. Those, whose “language” is shared among them. Those, whose vision is born out of processes rather than events. Those, who have committed themselves to leave a legacy rather than make the legacy.

Congratulations to Argentina for winning the FIFA Men’s World Cup for the 3rd time in their history.

It was a fitting tribute to the first ever FIFA World Cup hosted in the Gulf and was very successful. The first ever FIFA World Cup played in November and December, has ended.

All the insinuations, just like in 2010, have come to naught. The event was a huge success. From where we were, far away from Qatar, and getting reports from those who were there, it was an eventful yet smooth World Cup as always, with some surprise results to top it up!

So, yes, once all is said and done, other than their team getting eliminated in the first round, which was only for the second time in the history of this prestigious event, Qatar has delivered a successful FIFA World Cup tournament. Qatar showed that the tournament, belongs to all people of the world. This they did by upholding their rules including banning of alcohol, but still have top class, 64 uninterrupted matches. The world celebrated football, soberly.

The people who may have let this event down, are teams that did not rise to the occasion. Regrettably, and notable, those were Belgium (ranked 2nd), Denmark (ranked 10th) and (Germany (ranked 11) and for the second consecutive edition.

Except for Italy, who were nowhere to be seen from the first match, all other top 10 ranked teams made it to the round of 16.

The highest ranked CAF nations, Senegal (ranked 18) and Morocco (ranked 22), made it to the round of 16 as well. Needless to say, the other three (Cameroon, Ghana and Tunisia) continued where others left off in Russia, four and half years ago.

One thing worth mentioning though is that while UEFA teams have been given a better chance to progress, it would not be a surprise to see at least one AFC nation emerging from their group at the expense of a UEFA powerhouse.

As predicted in the preview, Japan and South Korea made it to the round of 16, at the expense of Germany and Uruguay, respectively. Interestingly, 12 years ago in South Africa, both these casualties, contested the 3rd place at Nelson Mandela Stadium, in July 2010. The advances of the Asian nations, particularly, in the past 12 years, is significant.

Only USA from Concacaf made it through while their co-hosts for the next edition, Canada and Mexico, as well as Costa Rica, all faltered at the first hurdle.

It is not usual that from the 13 UEFA nations, five would be eliminated in the first round, and only two made it to the last four. In Russia, all four in the semifinal were UEFA nations.

In Brazil, there were two as the other two were the Conmebol powerhouses, Brazil and Argentina.

In 2006, the same pattern as in Russia prevailed as all four (Italy, France, Germany and Portugal), contested the semifinal.

The teams that made it were those, as expected, who have strong youth development programs, playing philosophy and a special player (a star).

All medals were attached to such a star; bronze – Luka Modric; silver – Kylian Mbappe, also a top goal scorer; gold – Lionel Messi, also Adidas Golden Ball, for the 2nd time.”

This particular World Cup, could be the last for many a star. These are players who have graced this stage and are 30 years or above. Some have been here five times, like Messi and Ronaldo. These are players that will be missed by all people who appreciate good top class football.

They include, in no particular order, Modric, Ronaldo, Messi, Sergio Busquets, Eden Hazard, Kevin Du Bryne, Luis Suarez, Ayew brothers (Andre and Jordaan) and others.

It is not usual that you have such array of top players likely to be playing their last FIFA World Cup. This is a huge number. However, what is most comforting is the emergence of very bright and talented players, who without doubt will take over. Mbappe is already up there, and so are Vinicius Junior, Kudus, Anthony, Pedri, Davies, De Jong, to mention just a few. After the elimination of previous winners, Spain (round of 16), Brazil and England (round of 8), it was left to Argentina and France, to keep the “tradition”. True to form, they both reached the final so the tradition was always going to be kept and as predicted earlier.

“It is almost certain that the World Cup will have one of the seven names already engraved in it, even this time around. It looks likely by the day that this cup (after 20 years), is going south rather than north from the Gulf,” I wrote.

Morocco surprised many and maybe themselves, too. The one defining and clear factor in their game was that it is not expected that a team that plays so defensive (they only conceded 1 goal-own goal, and were dominated in their first four matches) until the semifinal and 3rd place play-off, where they let in two in each game. They have made history as the first CAF nation to break through the round of eight and reach the last four. A huge feat indeed. This is even more significant when one considers that they were first round casualties in Russia finishing 4th in Group B with only one point!

With only four places, the Conmebol nations are always going to present a serious challenge and this time too, was no different. Two teams (Ecuador and Uruguay) fell in the first hurdle with the other two (Argentina and Brazil) going through, and of course, Argentina winning it.

The final was a thriller that we all expected it to be. Although France came back in the 2nd half, having gone to half time break with no goal attempt whatsoever and Mbappe having only been on the ball less than four times, the game still leaned toward Argentina. The two PSG players on the field, Mbappe and Messi, gave the game the spark that it needed. They came to the front where we all expected them to be. They led their teams and confirmed their statuses as the icons in their line-ups.

France could have made the game more interesting by playing more purposeful from the word go. Only after they scored in the 80th and 81st minute did they really “come to the party”. From that moment on, we were treated to a sumptuous 41 minutes of action, all round

The UEFA dominance on the World Cup, has been halted, since 20 years when Brazil won it in Korea-Japan, in 2002. The strength of Conmebol nations cannot be undermined. UEFA come with 13 nations, CAF with five, AFC had six and Conmebol was only equal to Concacaf with 4, but they emerged as champions at the end. This is a big feat indeed.

After watching the Copa America in 2021, one got the feeling that Argentina and Brazil, were going to be favourites to win the next World Cup. It is a pity that most of our people in SA, are unable to see such events and therefore, unable to have a balanced view of all the nations in the world.

If we all had the opportunity to see all the confederations in their tournaments, possibly we would all have a better view of what to expect in the Battle of the Cultures.

As the curtain falls on the 22nd edition of the FIFA World Cup and everyone accepts that Argentina are the champions and that what Messi could not deliver in 2014, he has now delivered in 2022, one thing is certain: without a special player, it will be more difficult, to get a medal in the 23rd FIFA World Cup edition and further.

Until a record breaking three nations (Canada/Mexico/USA) co-hosting in three years and six months-time, congratulations to Argentina and your star-Messi!

The question is not which team will triumph in 2026, but which culture and those without any must forget!

By Ziphozonke Dlangalala