The World Cup opener was absolutely terrible and we couldn’t be happier with it

The World Cup opener was absolutely terrible and we couldn’t be happier with it

We have thought about it and decided that the opening game of the WC went pretty much as well as anyone could have hoped.

It was rubbish, Qatar was terrible, and everyone got to vent all their VAR jokes and complaints in the first five minutes. For this particular opening game of this very World Cup, we couldn’t have asked for more.

At some point there will be a genuinely brilliant football match and, despite ourselves, we will enjoy it. But this game certainly wasn’t that game, and the longer we can maintain our snooty contempt for everything about this tournament, the better.

Mainly, we are also childishly invested in Qatar doing terribly. And on that score this was truly unimproved. They honked. Ecuador are a middling international team who put in half an hour of effort and an hour of clever low-energy game management that absolutely never seemed to come back to bite them. They remained level above Qatar at all times and the hosts’ failure to spend any of the last 12 years trying to find and train a proper goalkeeper is already looking like a disastrous but hilarious mistake.

There will be many out there who will argue that having a VAR decision go Qatar’s way just three minutes into the tournament is a little on the nose, a little hack, a little dismissed-in-the-writers-room-to-be-too obvious. To those people we say, one, that the whole “bite your nose, lazy writing” thing is itself extremely cliche and hack, and that’s why we’re having our cake and eating it by framing it this way. But two, and more importantly, no. This was excellent. This was the perfect way to start the tournament. A VAR decision for all of Twitter!

We desperately wanted this game to be boring and for Qatar to be well beaten, and it was just that. But it was always going to mean that a bit of banter was needed along the way to keep everyone going, and there was hugely enjoyable VAR banter at all levels. If the game is going to be broken, at least try to make it fun.

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Offside decisions like this are the very best kind of VAR decisions. They let everyone say “technically correct” in a sniffy way, but the good thing about it is “technically correct” really just means “correct”. What really comes of the sniffiness is that these types of offside decisions – and this was a pretty perfect example – were not only never given offside until VAR, but most importantly were never even discussed, and that was actually what was calling for VAR. About.

It’s almost as if giving flawed technology far-reaching powers to intervene in football matches has had unintended consequences. Who could have imagined it? And if we want to get rid of gratifying, moment-stealing “technically correct” decisions like today’s, then really the only solution is to not only scrap VAR, but also ban endless discussions about “bad decisions” that go against our teams because we just have to accept that it’s part of the game and we’ve now seen the alternative and decided it’s worse. Pretty sure football isn’t ready to have that exact conversation.

But if VAR remains the way we have to assume it is, then it needs to get better at explaining itself. Nothing was going to stop the confirmation bias and conspiracy theories that were already raging around the internet, but showing an inconceivable replay and then nothing for 10 minutes certainly helped the spread. And then when we got the actual evidence the decision was based on, the graphics for the “semi-automatic” system were absolutely sensational low rent. It’s just as well that we all got our first glimpse of them in a meaningless game and an event that had no bearing on the outcome. At the very least, everyone should now be prepared for the inevitable shitstorms to come.

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A delightful bit of VAR huffing also allowed the BBC coverage to move on from what was in truth a rather skilful handling of the elephant in the studio during the pre-match section. Alex Scott spoke brilliantly and Alan Shearer pointedly about the problems surrounding the tournament, and there was no pretense of “sticking to football”. Even Shearer’s Newcastle connection was addressed to cut off another potential avenue for anything and divert from the disingenuous.

Inevitably, though, the sight of Shearer getting as upset about VAR as he did about migrant workers makes it all look a little odd. It’s an impossible situation where neither focusing on nor ignoring football is really viable. Gary Lineker and the gang handled it as well as expected.

The same could not be said of Dion Dublin’s often bizarre turn in the co-commentator’s chair. When he wasn’t attempting to provide precise medical diagnoses of various on-field injuries—at one point surely breaking the world record for most repetitions of the word “knee” in a 15-second period—he was often found praising non-stop singing The Qatar fans in a way usually reserved for non-league supporters having a blast day out at Goodison Park or Elland Road in the third round of the FA Cup.

We spent a good portion of the second half, when not much else was happening in our defense, trying and failing to find an answer to the puzzle of how a man can be a perfectly capable host of a popular daytime TV show about tarting. up houses for profit, yet so inept at offering co-commentary insight on the sport he played professionally for two decades.

The early VAR game that was so quickly followed by Ecuador being awarded and scored a penalty was also good for slowing down the development of the conspiracy theories, and it was obviously important that Qatar were beaten. We admit we’ve been intimidated by all the beard-stroking hipsters who’ve spent the last couple of weeks saying “Don’t write off Qatar, they’re actually no mugs” and are happy to report that Qatar is total shit.

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Maybe they were nervous – they certainly looked it – and maybe in other games their goalkeeper won’t be staging his own dirty protest against the tournament. But other host nations were certainly nervous before the opening game, and none had ever lost it. Qatar had lost this match with just under half an hour on the clock.

And they won’t face a weaker team than Ecuador after this. Based on the defense and goaltending we saw here, the Netherlands can tear them apart if they are brave enough in several ways.

There is now a desperately long road to qualification for Qatar anyway, and we are unapologetically happy about it. That’s how we deal with everything.

Normally at a World Cup outside of the traditional football team you find yourself rooting for the hosts a bit. South Africa. Japan and South Korea. Even the bloody Americans of 1994, a little.

The longer the hosts are interested and involved, the better it is for the tournament. More fun for everyone that way. Not here, though. The best copy for this tournament is going to be the hosts disappearing from the action on the pitch as soon as possible. At least, unlike literally everything else in this damn tournament, it shouldn’t be a problem.

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