World Cup 2022: Infantino Praises ‘Best Group Stage Ever’

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AL WAKRAH - FIFA President Gianni Infantino, Former President of Croatia Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 round of 16 match between Japan and Croatia at Al Janoub Stadium on December 5, 2022 in Al Wakrah, Qatar. AP | Dutch Height | MAURICE OF STONE - Photo by Icon sport

FIFA President Gianni Infantino has hailed the opening stages of this year’s Qatar World Cup as the ‘best ever,’ following several close and competitive matches in Doha. In a recent press conference, the FIFA boss said the number of big upsets and variety of teams competing at the tournament has shown that football is increasing its reach.

The likes of Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Germany all suffering surprising defeats in their group games to sides hailing from Asia and Africa in this year’s World Cup. Sides from North America as well as Africa and Asia also progressed to the final round of 16 this year. The soccer governing bodies’ president said that the matches, that were played in “beautiful stadiums,” had garnered TV viewers above the two billion mark.

 “Fantastic atmosphere, great goals, incredible excitement, surprises, small teams beating big teams,” Infantino was quoted as saying about the group stages in a release from FIFA.

“Well, there are no more small teams and no more big teams,” Infantino said, “The level is very, very equal.

“For the first time as well, national teams from all continents going to the knock-out phase, for the first time in history,” he stated, “This shows that football is really becoming truly global.”

Earlier this week, Infantino had conveyed his delight with the numbers of football supporters attending Qatar’s stadiums and attending fan zones around the small gulf state. He predicted that TV figures would exceed five billion people by the end of the competition.

 “At the end [of the day, we simply want to give some joy and some smiles to people all over the world,” he added to his praise.

“That’s what football is about, that’s what the World Cup is about, and that’s what should also happen from now until the end,” the FIFA President stated, “We have already seen some great action on the field, which, [ultimately], is the most important part of what you do.”

Infantino Hails ‘Best Ever’ Group Stages

The Qatar and America 2026 World Cup

The FIFA head has been at the fore of expanding the next World Cup to 48 teams (from 32 at Qatar), which is set to be held in 16 cities across the USA, Mexico and Canada in 2026. The awarding of that tournament has gone down as less controversial than the awarding o this year’s World Cup to Qatar, due to the Middle-Eastern state’s poor human rights record and alleged corruption in gaining the tournament.

Before the World Cup, Infantino came out in support of the 2022 tournament and criticized those who did not support the Qatar World Cup. The FIFA President accused his critics Europe of hypocrisy and said that engagement was the only way to improve human rights in countries.

Infantino was responding to the increasing pressure upon him and FIFA for awarding the current competition to Qatar, particularly as the competition approached its start. LGBTQ+ rights were high on the agenda and symbols of support for the ‘OneLove’ campaign have been tightly controlled in  Qatar.

Nevertheless, the tournament has so far advanced with little incident, which Infantino must be happy with as the pressure has been released.