After eight years you forget what it’s like in the deep end of the pool, and all the things you imagined since the USMNT qualified actually play out on the field. And the feeling that you could kiss anyone in front of you swinging wildly to being able to take a human life in an instant. No one watches sports to have fun. What’s fun? Fuck you if you want to have fun. It’s about feeling everything else, so rarely any of it good. Anyway, let’s break down the doings of the first full day of the 2022 World Cup.
We’ll have a deep dive into this one directly, but it was just about the only interesting game of the day, unless you’re English. The US got the exact opening 45 minutes it wanted. The problem is that FIFA still requires a team to play 90 minutes, though you never know how that might change in the future (see what happens if by some miracle Qatar is leading or tied in a game at the 70-minute mark, but more on this also in a second). Wales hurled themselves at the US in the second half, though not in any particular direction, it all paid off with a penalty after a woefully stupid challenge from Walker Zimmerman on Gareth Bale to allow the latter to tee up from the spot, just about the only time anyone noticed him all match. The last 20 minutes, thanks to the new policy of letting injury time be decided by a cokehead in this tournament, were frantic and structureless, but neither team had anything left to conjure up a winner.
It couldn’t have gone much better for England, who spent about half an hour playing with their food before letting Jude Bellingham, soon to be the most expensive midfielder in history, off the leash to open the scoring. Once they got the lead, Iran didn’t have a plan for going forward and seemed to give up on defending as well, and the Three Lions ran rampant. Either Harry Kane or Bellingham or Declan Rice were able to ping passes out to their wide forwards, be it Bukayo Saka, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, or Jack Grealish, as Iran simply never got close to them. Once those guys are in space, you can forget it. England contrived to give away two goals, probably out of pure boredom, but they stretched and bent and broke the Iranian defense in whatever way they pleased.
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The fear was that Senegal without Sadio Mane would be an absolute bore, and so it came to pass against The Netherlands. The Dutch didn’t look too spicy either, struggling to get through a pretty stout Senegal midfield and only creating the sporadic chance. It’s been a tournament full of abstract goalkeeping, and Éduoard Mendy was only too happy to pick up the torch from Saad Al Sheeb of Qatar, chasing a butterfly when there was a cross to deal with that he wasn’t within five feet of:
Mendy wasn’t done, as he spooned out a rebound to Davy Klassen after nothing more than a suggestion of a shot from Memphis Depay. Senegal didn’t deserve much, given how little they created, but they might have seen things out to grab a point had their keeper not transported to Strawberry Fields for the second half.
Tim Weah’s was a gorgeous finish off an elegant counter from the US, but gotta give it to Saka’s hammertime of a volley:
You’d like more than dentist-waiting-room-passion from the Iran defense there to get out to Saka, but can’t argue with what he came up with.
No, they left that to Qatar and FIFA.
And how! The day started with FIFA decreeing that the teams that had planned to have their captains wear “One Love” armbands were now not allowed to do so, and any captain who went against the rules would be yellow-carded on the spot. The seven FAs planning to do so backed off.
While it sounds truly weak that the pretty much empty gesture of wearing an armband proved too much when threatened with on-field penalties, it’s important to remember how many layers this kind of protest had to filter down through to then be up to the players.
It was FIFA who put this tournament in the land of intolerance. It was then up to any member of FIFA to band together to stop it, except they were too busy counting their non-sequential bills. Perhaps any collection of actual governments could have stepped up, but they need oil and natural gas too much. There are probably a couple more levels that could have done something before players were asked to be the ones to be symbols of defiance in what turned out to be kind of an unworkable gesture now.
And again, this was right on the cusp of when England’s Harry Kane was going to be the first to wear one. Was this something sent down the chain from the Qatari rulers? Did FIFA just anticipate this is what they’d say anyway? Did they do it out of fear? We knew the beer ban in stadiums on the eve of the tournament could mushroom into bigger stuff, and here we are.
That would be bad enough, but Grant Wahl had a tale to tell before the USMNT match:
It feels like someone told stadium security that Wahl might be the preeminent soccer journalist in this country and giving him a bullhorn to loudly display the horseshit way the government wants to run wouldn’t be the best idea, though it’s too late now. Putting the idea of “sportswashing” even more into the farce.
Were we done? Nope! Their ticket app failed before the England match, leaving swaths of fans stuck outside the stadium when England was kicking off.
Also, FIFA declared that the Netherlands-Senegal match had 3,000 more fans than the stated capacity of the stadium. You tell us:
And to keep going, Iran fans who wanted to bring in Persian flags, a symbol of the protests going on in that country, had them confiscated. This tournament is going well!
“MLS Cup champion Gareth Bale.” Just stare at it, marvel at its beauty…
Ismaila Sarr provided one of the few moments of Senegalese verve, causing Denzel Dumfries to end up in the axed-out beer booths on the concourse.
There’s always been a school of thought that 10 or 12 minutes of injury time should be a regular occurrence, given how little time the ball can spend in play in soccer. Apparently, FIFA has decided to try and market correct this in one tournament. England and Iran played 117 minutes, though there were serious injuries to account for. Senegal and the Netherlands played 102. The US and Wales had 10 minutes of injury time to wade through in the second half. This is going to get silly later in the tournament, just you watch.

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