Cats, pop stars and dressing-room showdowns: Qatar World Cup highlights

·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Luca Bruno/AP</span>
Photograph: Luca Bruno/AP

Oddest speech: Gianni Infantino

Today I feel gay,” Fifa’s head told surprised journalists pre-tournament. “Today I feel disabled, today I feel a migrant worker.” He revealed he knew how migrants felt because “as a child [in Switzerland] I was bullied. I had red hair and freckles, plus I was Italian, so imagine”. His basic point: media should stop the “profoundly unjust” scrutiny of the hosts. “It’ll be the best World Cup ever.”

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Best game: Argentina 2-2 Netherlands (4-3 pens)

It started unremarkably but ended in chaotic, bad-tempered and memorable style. Wout Weghorst’s two late goals – the second from a clever free-kick routine – forced Argentina to extra time and penalties after Lionel Messi and co had appeared to be cruising into the quarter-finals. They got there eventually. A mention too for the frantic conclusion to Group E (Costa Rica 2-4 Germany, Japan 2-1 Spain), when Spain faced elimination for three mad minutes, despite having won their opener 7-0.

The Netherlands v Argentina quarter-final.
The Netherlands v Argentina quarter-final. Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

Most unlikely Twitter exchange

In response to this from Andrew Neil (@afneil) – “I don’t watch many football games. I watched England v USA. It confirmed why I don’t watch many football games” – came this from Jamie Carragher (@Carra23): “I don’t watch many news shows. I watched GB news. It confirmed why I don’t watch many news shows.”

Best Fifa moment

Among the governing body’s other standout moments was threatening to impose sanctions on players wearing the rainbow OneLove armband, while taking disciplinary action against Mexico and Ecuador for alleged homophobic chanting by fans. Football remains in the safest of hands.

The One Love armband
The One Love armband. Photograph: Sipa US/Alamy

Most inevitable rethink

After a few early 0-0s, the 32-team format proved itself again – a treat of group-stage drama, elite football at its most pure and engaging. So Fifa is dropping it: 2026 will bloat to 48 teams – meaning less jeopardy, reduced quality, but, on balance, a lot more money.

Noblest tradition

An internal squad bust-up. This year it was observed by Belgium, after Kevin De Bruyne and Jan Vertonghen reportedly clashed in the dressing room over De Bruyne telling the Guardian how Belgium are too old to win the World Cup. Coach Roberto Martínez called the bust-up “fake news”; De Bruyne turned out to be right.

Best dancing

Morocco’s Sofiane Boufal danced with his mum (“she was crying, the emotions make you crazy”); Brazilian players danced to annoy Roy Keane; and Jack Grealish fulfilled a promise to 11-year-old fan Finlay by celebrating his goal against Iran with Finlay’s wavy arm dance, known as “the Finlay”. Finlay has cerebral palsy like Grealish’s sister Hollie; footage of the pair chatting about it raised spirits.

Surprise package: Morocco

Who else? No one predicted the Atlas Lions’ progress to become the first African nation to make the last four. Walid Regragui had precious little time to prepare after Vahid Halilhodžić’s sacking in August. Achraf Hakimi was already an established star but he, and the entire team, far exceeded expectations.

Most unlikely cameo

Chesney Hawkes performed his 1991 hit The One and Only during England v Wales, then headed home to play Butlin’s in Skegness: “I can’t forget my fans at Butlin’s.” He said the “Qatar gig” was “amazing … I spent five weeks at number one and topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic – but this was undoubtedly my career highlight.”

Chesney Hawkes performing The One and Only during the England v Wales game
Chesney Hawkes performing The One and Only during the England v Wales game Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Observer

Worst live vox pops

A viral 13 seconds of live interviewing from Sky News outside the Ahmad bin Ali stadium as Wales fans left after defeat to Iran. Reporter: “Guys, you’re live on Sky Sports. Your reaction to the win?” Fan: “We lost.” Reporter: “Sorry, reaction to the loss?” Second fan: “Shit.”

Best player name

Keeping newspaper subeditors entertained was Morocco keeper Yassine “Bono” Bounou, and his penalty-saving display against Spain. The Guardian: “Beautiful day for Bono and Morocco”. The Mirror: “Pride in the name of glove”. The Sun: “Shock N stroll”. The Star: “Bono has the edge”.

Best culture

Another tournament tradition: footage of Japan fans clearing up after themselves going viral. Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu: “For Japanese people, this is just normal.” Also doing the rounds was a video of the fans played in reverse for comic effect. @AndyHa_: “Footage of Japan fans taking litter out of a bag and leaving it all over the stadium hile laughing and smiling. Disgraceful scenes.”

Japanese fans clear up the stands after their team loses to Croatia
Japanese fans clear up the stands after their team loses to Croatia. Photograph: Lars Baron/Getty Images

Biggest attention seekers

England’s unofficial mascot, Dave the Cat
England’s unofficial mascot, Dave the Cat. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

Cats featured heavily this winter, with global outcry after one was roughly dumped off a table by a Brazil team press officer – Brazilian media asking: “Would you treat your pet like this?” More positively, however, Dave the Cat became the England team’s unofficial mascot after showing up at the team hotel. He’s now in quarantine for four months after being adopted by John Stones and Kyle Walker.