Men’s World Cup and Global Politics
Men’s World Cup and Global Politics
The Men’s World Cup and Global Politics Project aims to advance critical understanding of the political significance of football through examining issues that surround the game’s quadrennial global showpiece, the FIFA World Cup. The project is a platform for dialogue, discussion and research that fosters collaborative engagement throughout the BSIA network.
"World Cup controversy: A sportswasher's dream or a tool for peace?", by Jake Pemberton, i24news. December 21, 2022.
"Looking back on the 2022 FIFA World Cup: A reflection on the tournament’s best moments, surprises, and controversies", Apple Podcast. December 20, 2022.
"Looking back on the 2022 FIFA World Cup: A reflection on the tournament’s best moments, surprises, and controversies", The Mike Farwell Show (42:49), CityNews570. December 20, 2022.[Interview with Mike Farwell]
"Looking back on the 2022 FIFA World Cup: A tournament of surprises and controversy", The Conversation. December 18, 2022.
"Laurier prof tackles politics and soccer through World Cup news hub", by Josh Brown. The Record. December 8, 2022.
"Despite the protests, celebrities have their reasons for appearing at the World Cup", by Jenna Benchetrit. CBC News. December 4, 2022.
"World Cup and Global Politics", interview with Tim Elcombe. iHeart Radio. November 30, 2022.
Tables and Indices
The 2022 World Cup comes to a close with two giant football nations and pre-tournament favourites squaring off. Argentina and France will meet in a rematch of the 2018 Round of 16 contest that resulted in Les Bleus defeating La Albiceleste 4-3 in Russia. France would go on to win the 2018 World Cup in front of an umbrella-protected Vladimir Putin for their second title – tying Argentina’s tally. But Argentina hasn’t won since Diego Maradona led his nation to World Cup glory in 1986 while France now looks to be the first to win back-to-back titles for 60 years (Brazil in 1962). The victor becomes the only nation with three titles, trailing Brazil (5), Germany (4), and Italy (4) for the most all-time.
Argentina versus France also represents the battle between football’s two great regions: Europe and South America. European nations representing UEFA have won 12 of the 21 World Cups contested before 2022 – South American (CONMEBOL) teams captured the remaining 9. Despite the 2022 World Cup featuring a more diverse cross-section of regions represented in the Round of 16 (2 African, 2 Asian, 1 Oceanic, 1 North American team), Morocco’s record-breaking run to the semi-finals championing both Africa and the Arab world, and numerous “minnow” upsets of footballing powers (including Saudi Arabia defeating Argentina and Tunisia upending France), the title will once again go to either a UEFA or CONMEBOL nation. Recognizing their collective power, UEFA and CONMEBOL in recent years have developed a growing alliance – including the organization of cross-regional competitions and opening of a joint office in London to counter FIFA’s control of world football. With much of FIFA’s executive power fueled by the support of smaller footballing nations in Asia, Africa, Central America, and the Caribbean, the UEFA-CONMEBOL partnership threatens to split governance of the world’s game in two.
The final will also feature arguably the greatest player of all-time, Argentina’s Lionel Messi, facing the next generation’s greatest star, Kylian Mbappé. A win for Messi’s Argentina would put him on equal World Cup footing with the legendary Maradona and likely end the “best ever” debate amongst the general population. Messi has become Argentina’s hero, but after some trials along the way. Having migrated to Barcelona as a teenager, the connection between Messi and the Argentine public was often tenous. And when Argentina failed to win a major title with Messi leading the way (until the Copa América in 2021), unfavourable comparisons to Maradona grew louder. In fact, after a disappointing loss in 2016, Messi publicly quit the Argetinian national team. Mbappé, in contrast, realized immediate success as a key contributor to France’s 2018 win as an 18-year old and is looking to add a second World Cup title to his already impressive football CV. But after an ineffective European Championship tournament performance in the summer of 2021, Mbappé similarly was subjected to extreme scrutiny (and racist abuse).
Mbappé’s importance to French football, however, extends beyond the national team. When Mbappé considered moving to Spanish giant Real Madrid last summer, French president Emmanuel Macron (and former president Nicolas Sarkozy) intervened and convinced the young star to remain at Paris St. Germain (PSG) to pursue Champions League glory with the French club. His decision to stay meant PSG retained its three global superstars: Mbappé, Brazil’s Neymar, and Messi. Together, PSG’s collection of stars results in French Ligue 1 dominance and a chance at the illusive Champions League title – the ultimate prize sought by the club’s owners: Qatari Sports Investments (QSI).
So the story of the 2022 World Cup and the convergence of sport and global politics fittingly comes full circle. The sport investment arm of the Qatari State, QSI, sees two of its greatest stars, representing two traditional football powers, meet on the pitch in a recently built stadium (by migrant workers) in a newly created city in the desert of Qatar. The Arab Peninsula nation’s estimated $220 billion (USD) investment to build an infrastructure effectively from scratch after its improbable selection as World Cup host will be on full display. And in large part, reports suggest Qatar has French authorities to thank. One week prior to FIFA’s selection of the 2018 and 2022 hosts in 2010, then-president Sarkozy allegedly pressured French football legend, UEFA president, and FIFA vice-president Michel Platini to vote for Qatar over a bid from the United States. Sarkozy, Platini, and Qatari crown prince (now Emir) Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani met at the French president’s official residence. With state-owned Qatar Airways’ acquistion of French built Airbus jets, as well as indications of a need for future fighter jet purchases, economic relations between the two nations was growing. Platini, as a voting member of FIFA’s executive committee, threw his support behind the Qatar bid following the meeting, and the Middle East nation became the 2022 host. Two years later, QSI completed the purchase of PSG with a goal to turn the relatively middling French club into European champions. Along the way, PSG has purchased Mbappé for €155M, “gifted” Neymar to the Parisian club for a record €222M, and snapped Messi up from Barcelona when financial challenges forced the Catalan club to release its greatest player.
World Cup Qatar 2022 has been the most politically scrutinized sporting event in history. Talk of human rights abuses, global leader deal-making, tribalism and alliances, power struggles, moral hypocrisy, nation-building and sportswashing have been as prevalent as analyses of the football spectacle taking place on the pitches inside cutting-edge Qatari stadiums. And on Sunday it all comes to a close. Who wins?
By Tim Elcombe
Although a feature of the World Cup since 1954, the third place match has been referred to as the “most pointless game in sport”. Having the two defeated semi-finalists square off days after seeing their World Cup dreams crushed seems cruel. Forcing Croatia and Morocco to play a second time – after a 0-0 draw in the opening game of Group F (see Day 3 Brief) – adds to the potential pointlessness of the match.
But reasons for specatators to tune in, as well as the teams to take the game seriously, remain. From a viewership perspective, the lack of jeopardy in the match may lead to more open play from both (largely defensive-oriented) teams, avoiding a repeat of the earlier scoreless draw. Furthermore, there are “harder” and “softer” political reasons – a concept I’ve written about elsewhere – for Croatia and Morocco to battle for the 3rd place “title”.
On the “harder” side, advancing to the semi-finals already guaranteed both Croatia and Morocco a significant financial windfall, with $42 million (USD) awarded to the champion, $30M to the runner-up, and $27M and $25M for 3rd and 4th respectively. For a smaller country such as Croatia (4th smallest population amongst the 32 World Cup qualifiers), or an ambitious developing football nation like Morocco, the extra $2M in prize money for winning the third place match could potentially make a significant difference to the state’s football infrastructure – assuming that is where the funds are allocated (Canadian players, for example, refused to play a pre-tournament friendly in a dispute with Canada Soccer over World Cup prize money distribution).
Both Croatia and Morocco have leaned on state investment to develop their national football programs – with the allocation of resources credited for the success of both sides. Croatia, for example, has strategically cultivated strong a national youth development system responsible for training the senior team athletes. However, according to a UEFA report, upgrades to Croatia’s state-owned facilities and a support for women’s football both require investment. $27M would certainly go a long way for the relatively new (and small) Eastern European nation. Similarly, Morocco’s emergent football infrastructure has depended on support from the nation’s monarchy. Beginning in 2007, the Mohammed VI Football Academy started recruiting talented teenagers to train and attend school in Rabat for the intention of enhancing Morocco’s football profile. With the addition of cutting-edge football training facilties and promises to renovate five existing and build up to nine new stadiums, the Royal Moroccan Football Federation is expected to launch a bid to host the 2030 World Cup. Bidding for hosting duties is nothing new to Morocco, as the 2030 proposal would be the African nation’s sixth attempt since 1994.
For both Croatia and Morocco, the use of “hard” state resources to develop strong national team programs capable of succeeding on the world stage is ultimately for “softer” purposes. As noted in the Day 19 Brief, football has been a tool for Croatia to develop a sense of national pride and identity as it fought for independence and international recognition following the Balkan War. For the tiny country to add another “bronze” result to previous second (2018) and third (1998) place finishes is nothing short of extraordinary from a footballing perspective. And this success has resulted in Croatia being part of the “global conversation” at each World Cup. Morocco’s newfound on-field success – the first African and Arab nation to reach the semi-finals – is seen as an opportunity to expand its diplomatic reach and to garner support for its Western Sahara territorial dispute with Algeria and the Polisario Front (see Day 16 Brief) along with strengthening its 2030 hosting application. Morocco wants the world to come to North Africa to elevate its global status, using the beautiful game as its lure.
Whether or not the understandably dejected players and coaches will approach this consolation match as significant, the game will once again serve as a meaningful reminder of the (non-sporting) power of football.
By Tim Elcombe
For the second time in the 2022 World Cup, France faces one of its former North African colonies: Morocco. After the signing of the Treaty of Fez in 1912 Morocco became a protectorate of France and Spain (see Day 16 Daily Brief). Over its nearly 44 years controlling most of Morocco, French troops regularly used deadly force to suppress resistance by Moroccan nationalists as well as North African tribes including the Berbers. France ruled over the “French Sahara” region until decolonization pressure across Africa and Asia led to the European power granting the North African nation its independence in 1955, with Tunisia gaining its independence a year later (see Day 10 Daily Brief). Morocco will look to match Tunisia’s historic (and widely celebrated) win over their former colonizers in the group stage, with a place in the finals on the line.
Morocco will certainly be well supported in their semi-final match against France beyond the borders of their homeland. As noted prior to their quarter-final victory over Portugal (see Day 20 Daily Brief), Morocco has become the defacto home team in Qatar. Morocco is also gaining support globally as the tournament’s underdog, having entered as the 20th ranked of 32 teams at the World Cup. Head coach of the Atlas Lions (Morocco’s football team nickname) Walid Regragui – who only took over in August – has referred to his squad as the “Rocky Balboa” of the World Cup. Regragui, born in the Paris suburbs, also represents the more than 1 million Moroccan descendents living in France – and the 5 million Moroccan diaspora living abroad overall.
The success of Morocco is also significant as a team advancing to the final four at the 2022 World Cup but representing neither traditional power regions Europe (UEFA) or South America (CONMEBOL). In Qatar, two African nations reached the Round of 16, five of the record six Asian Football Confederation qualifiers (including Australia) won a game (only host Qatar failed to secure a victory), with three AFC representatives also advancing to the knockout stage. In fact, Morocco’s progression to the semi-finals also marks a first for an African nation – Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002), and Ghana (2010) previously reached the quarter-finals.
Morocco’s progression through the tournament is also a first for the League of Arab States (LAS). Founded in 1945, and based on the Alexandria Protocol signed in 1944, the LAS was formed to create economic and political alliances across the Arab world. After gaining independence from France and Spain in 1955, Morocco joined the LAS in 1958 – with the current membership totalling 22 Arab countries including other 2022 World Cup participants Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and host Qatar. For a LAS nation to be represented in the semi-finals, at a World Cup hosted for the first time in an Arab nation – particularly with the criticisms Qatar has faced (mostly from the Global North) since controversially awarded the World Cup at a FIFA ceremony in 2010 – Morocco also carries the hopes of the Arab world on its shoulders.
France, three-time World Cup champions (including the last event in 2018) will enter the semi-final against Morocco as a heavy favourite. One of football’s great nations, the French team is loaded with recognizable star players and a history of success at the World Cup. But Morocco will undoubtedly be powered through the passionate support generated through its representation of its homeland and the Moroccan diaspora, as the defacto host and underdog, as well as the most successful team ever from Africa and the Arab World.
By Tim Elcombe
2018 finalist Croatia faces one of the pre-tournament favourites and most supported national sides in Qatar, Argentina, for a place in the 2022 World Cup finals. Friendly relations off the pitch – an estimated 250,000 citizens of Argentina of Croatian descent live in the South American nation; Argentina allegedly (illegally) provided weapons to Croatia during the war in Yugoslavia – will likely be sidelined. Both squads required penalty shootout victories to advance to the semi-finals, and will continue to rely heavily on their diminutive but seemingly ageless star players: Lionel Messi for Argentina and Luka Modric for Croatia.
Messi is considered by many the greatest footballer of all-time, and between 2008 and 2021 only the Argentine superstar (7 times) or his great Portuguese rival Cristiano Ronaldo (5 times) won the game’s top individual prize, the Ballon d’Or – except for 2018 when Modric was named player of the year. This won’t be the first time Messi and Modric face each other in a high stakes football match. In 2012 Modric left London-based Tottenham Hotspur FC for Real Madrid – one of the most iconic football clubs in the world. Real Madrid’s great rival is another Spanish giant, FC Barcelona, led by Messi from 2004 until his tearful (and economically necessitated) departure to Paris St. Germain (owned by Qatar Sports Investments) in 2021. Between 2012 and 2021 Modric and Messi’s professional clubs battled for Spanish and European supremacy – with each matchup between the two clubs referred to as El Clásico. During this time Messi’s Barcelona won more LaLiga titles (5 to 3), however Real Madrid captured 5 coveted Champions League trophies since Modric arrived. But like much of the football landscape, the sporting rivalry between these Spanish clubs is deeply informed by wider cultural-political contexts. Barcelona, with its motto “more than a club” has long served as the symbol of Catalan identity – particularly during the Franco dictatorship in Spain (1939-1975). Real (“Royal”) Madrid, conversely, has been adopted as the team of the Spanish monarchy and sees itself as the representative of a singular Spain.
Messi and Modric also reflect the Western European and British domination of the world’s game – both at the club and international level. As a teenager, Messi left his home in Argentina to join Barcelona’s famed youth academy. In the meantime, Modric joined Croatian side Dinamo Zagreb’s youth setup before leaving for greener pastures in the English Premier League (Tottenham) in 2008 and Real Madrid in 2012. Both featured for their home nations for the first time at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, won by Italy in a penalty shootout over France. Spain defeated Netherlands in 2010, while Messi’s Argentina lost to Germany in 2014 and Modric’s Croatia fell to France in 2018. European clubs have won 4 consecutive World Cups and 5 of the last 6 – also supplying the finalist for 5 of the last 7 editions. Although the Round of 16 in Qatar ended up featuring fewer UEFA (Europe’s football regional governing body) sides (7) than in Russia four year ago (10), there is a growing concern that European and British power over all elite football competitions will continue to grow – resulting in World Cup domination and increased migration of football talent out of the Global South.
With Messi now 35 and Modric 37, this is likely the last chance for both star players to capture the World Cup. And if Modric is able to lead Croatia back to the finals for a repeat match against France (playing Morocco tomorrow), then UEFA teams will once again be guaranteed the World Cup title. But Messi, and the quest to complete his legacy with a World Cup title, will stand in the Croatians way and hope to (along with Morocco) break Europe’s stranglehold.
By Tim Elcombe
The future of sustainable practices, including energy use and production’s impact on climate change, is increasingly an issue of international attention. Mega sport, with its massive ecological impact due to transportation and infrastructure requirements, has similarly moved climate action to the forefront of its agenda. Governing bodies, such as FIFA and the International Olympic Commitee, have developed “climate strategies” to address sustainability challenges related to their mega sport events. Qatar has similarly developed a sustainability strategy for hosting the 2022 World Cup, including the construction of the modular Stadium 974 already in the process of being dismantled. This fits with the Middle East nation’s economic diversification plan – recognizing a need to situate the nation in a post-carbon future. However both have come under scrutiny during the World Cup – with suspicion of Qatar’s true motives for hosting sporting mega events beyond economic diversification and its actual realization of stated event objectives.
Sustainability issues, particularly from a post-carbon “green” energy perspective, also relates to quarter-finals combatants Morocco and Portugal. Morocco’s commitment to green energy infrastructure development sees it now recognized as a world leader in renewable energy – evidenced by its first place ranking in EY’s normalized Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index (RECAI – 18th in the “non-normalized” ranking). The North African nation has ideal conditions to produce solar, wind, and hydro power. As such, Morocco is looking to become a global leader in the green energy sector. This past October, the European Union (EU) signed a green energy deal with Morocco – in large part to find alternatives to Russian oil and gas reliance.
Portugal is similarly recognized for its commitment to renewable energy, ranking 22nd (and up from 27th) in the RECAI. Beyond its agreement with Morocco as part of the EU, Portugal and its African “neighbour” have bilateral renewable energy agreements, and recently pledged to work collaboratively to develop a “green hydrogen” sector.
Morocco’s desire to play a central role in global green politics, however, is not universally lauded. Much of Morocco’s strategy, critics point out, relies on the use of the contested territory of the Western Sahara (see the Day 16 Brief on Morocco v Spain for more details). Referred to as “green colonialism”, a growing concern in the move towards sustainable practices is the exploitation of Global South resources and disregard for Indigenous practices by the Global North. Increasingly, calls for “climate justice” and “just transitions” are now part of the green political landscape.
On the field, Morocco has become the first Arab (and fourth African) nation to advance to the World Cup quarter-finals after a penalty-shootout victory over the much favoured Spain. The Moroccons have become the defacto “home team” at the 2022 tournament, with host Qatar effectively eliminated from the competition after its first two game. Portugal cruised into this match easily defeating Switzerland 6-1 – even with global superstar Cristiano Ronaldo left on the bench for most of the game. Acknowledged as one of the greatest of all-time, this could be Ronaldo’s final World Cup appearance.
By Tim Elcombe
The oldest of adversaries and the oldest of allies. While not huge rivals on the football field, in politics, culture and economics historical conflict could not be greater. In terms of direct conflict, the Norman conquest which began in 1066 was the last successful conquest of England by the French, whereas the last fighting between Great Britain and the French, was at the battle of Waterloo in 1815, which ended the Napoleonic Wars. In between, for over 800 years, both countries fought each other off-and-on more often than joined forces, first for control of Europe, and then later over colonial empires. The Entente Cordiale, an understanding rather than a treaty, signed in 1904 settled a whole host of colonial era disputes (to the satisfaction of the French and English, though not those colonised) motivated by the rising aspiration of Germany. The English and French since then have been the closest, but also the most belligerent of allies. More recently, the twentieth century has been dominated by disagreements over the importance of European unification, particularly with regard to political and economic sovereignty and the wider drift to Eurocentrism (for the French) rather than Anglocentrism (for the English, if not the wider UK). In this choice, the U.K. particularly after Brexit, and given its current political turbulence, seem to be the more likely loser in this parting, rather than the French. Up to this point, the U.K. is unclear itself, as are its allies about its likely future place in the World, whereas the recent French elections, seem to indicate some degree of political security. These diverging paths are a mark of differences in post-industrial history, with the French, from the revolution onwards, taking a more left-leaning social and communitarian political and economic outlook, whereas the UK political establishment is now firmly rooted in right-leaning political and economic neo-liberalism. At times these differences are a pet dog-whistle for the right-wing popular press in the UK, with the upcoming match not immune from such outright provocation by The Sun. Ongoing tensions about migration and people trafficking, particularly with regards to the upsurge of small boat crossings of the English Channel and ongoing post-Brexit trade disputes played out locally (fishing rights) and globally (nuclear submarines) will persist. However, though Liz Truss, in her disastrous short-lived stint as prime-mister was unable to confirm the French are friends of the UK, at the highest level, particularly with regard to broader military alliances and shared enemies, joint ventures are steadfast. By Alun Hardman
Mega sport events, particularly when athletes represent nations, tend to bring out strong feelings of collective unity and – for better or worse – tribalism. Reports from Qatar highlight moments of national revelry inside and outside the stadiums, as well as some violent interactions amongst supporters and authorities during the 2022 World Cup. African, Asian, and South American fans, in particular, have been particularly visible and audible for television viewers. But the connection between participation in the World Cup and national celebration extends beyond Qatar into the various homelands. All around the world fans gathered at homes, in city squares, and public establishments for viewing parties to celebrate “their nation’s” involvement in the World Cup. After their famous victory over Argentina earlier in the tournament, for example, the Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz declared a national holiday. In other places, riots between migrant communities and authorities in their adopted states broke out after historic victories.
This tangible sense of flag waving nationalism through football is powerful – but often as fleeting “90-minute patriotism”. Canadians, for example, have taken great pride in the successes of the national team’s march to World Cup qualification, however for most the “connection” will go dormant until the next major success. But for the people of the two competing squads kicking off the quarter-finals – Brazil and Croatia – the connection between their football teams and national identity runs deeper and is more enduring than most.
Brazil’s interweaving of football and national identity has been developed over the past 100 years. With multiple books analyzing the connections between the Seleção Canarinho (‘Canary Squad’) and futebal, the five-time World Cup champions is among the most studied cases of sporting nationalism. Even the way Brazilian players are expected to perform on the pitch – creative and Samba-like – supposedly represents the people. During their dominating win over South Korea in the Round of 16, Brazilian players (and even their coach) danced after every goal – drawing the ire of more “traditionalist” football pundits.
The deep connection between the Croatian state and its national football team is largely due to historical circumstance. Amidst the bloody wars in Yugoslavia, Croatia formed a national team prior to declaring independence (1991), donning the red-white chequed jerseys while defeating the United States, Romania, and Slovenia in friendly matches. The Croatian Football Association officially joined FIFA in 1992, but did not participate in the UEFA qualification rounds for the 1994 World Cup. However the squad would make it to the 1998 World Cup, advancing to the semi-finals (and winners of the 3rd place game). Croatia’s success in their first World Cup in the shadow of war provided the Croatian people with a chance to celebrate as a nation, to make their mark on the global stage. The national team, with this support, has remained amongst the top footballing nations in the world throughout the 21st century, culminating in a second place finish at the last (2018) World Cup in Russia. By Tim Elcombe
Two of footballs most iconic national teams face off in the second quarter-final today: Argentina (in perhaps the great Lionel Messi’s last international match) and Netherlands. Leading the Netherlands into action is their 71 year-old coach Louis Van Gaal (currently battling cancer) – a legendary figure in the influential history of Dutch “total football”. This approach to football required all players on the pitch to be interchangeable, both in terms of skill sets and positioning – resulting in a fluid, highly entertaining stye of play. Total football largely grew out of Amsterdam’s Ajax football club (from manager Rinus Michaels), spreading to the national team and eventually to Barcelona FC. Crucial to the success and dissemination of this system was one of world football’s greatest players Johan Cruyff – who played for the Dutch national side as well as Ajax and Barcelona. As Michaels’ greatest devotee, Cruyff eventually became manager of Ajax and then Barcelona – taking total football to new heights and inspiring both Dutch (including Van Gaal) and Barcelona (most notably now-Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola) disciples to adopt this system of play. But total football, according to author David Winner, is more than football tactics – it is a reflection of Dutch culture. For example, in his captivating book Brilliant Orange, Winner draws links between total football’s attempt to maximize the use of space across the pitch and the Dutch’s efficient approach to urban design and architecture. Like Brazil’s samba-style, total football, Winner argues, is a style born from a culture.
At the height of Cruyff’s powers (early-mid 1970s), his Ajax teams were Europe’s most successful. Expectations for the Dutch national side were equally high – yet the Netherlands failed to win the World Cup. Considered one of the greatest national teams of all time, the mesmerizing 1974 Dutch side lost a heartbreaking final to a very meticulous host West Germany. Entering the 1978 tournament, Cruyff’s powers on the pitch were dwindling and he effectively retired from playing for the national team. Rumours that he boycotted the ’78 tournament for political reasons turned out to be untrue – he instead refused to leave his family after a kidnapping plot had been discovered.
But the ‘political’ reasons long-attributed to Cruyff’s absence in 1978 were due to the location of the tournament – Argentina. The host nation were in the midst of what is referred to as the Dirty War. A military coup in 1976 had toppled socialist leader Juan Perón’s government and replaced it with an ultra-nationalistic dictatorship which used terror to suppress dissention. FIFA’s selection of Argentina as host preceded the rise of the military junta – but refused to move the tournament to reinforce its “non-political” mantra (ignoring a policy that government officials not be directly involved in World Cup organization). The tournament logo, to the new regime’s dismay, reflected Peron’s trademark two-arm gesture – but due to international (sponsor) pressure, organizers were forced to keep it. Despite this image setback, Argentina’s relatively new leadership used the World Cup to present itself to the world, rounding up (and “disappearing”) political prisoners and silencing potential dissenters in the media. To the great delight of both the military junta and the nation as a whole, their beloved Argentinian national team reached the final – defeating the Cruyff-less Dutch-squad in the final to win their first of two (1986) World Cups, rendering the Netherlands to runner-up status once again.
In 1912 Spain signed the Treaty of Fez with France, giving the southern European nation control of the northern and southern areas of Morocco. A fading colonial power, Spain sought control of portions of the African territory due to its geographical proximity (and security challenges) and its supposed “historic claim” over northern Morocco – in the face of growing French and British power in the region. As a ‘protectorate’ of Spain in the North and South, and the remaining central areas a ‘protectorate’ of France, Morocco was considered a sovereign nation – but under colonial control. Resistance from Berber tribes in the Rif region of Morocco led to conflict; and as political tensions in Spain in the 1930s grew, members of the Spanish African Army and Moroccon rebels took control of army installations – eventually setting in motion General Franco’s victory in the Spanish Civil War. When France returned full control to Morocco in 1956, Spain followed suit and the North African nation gained its independence. Spain continued to occupy, however, an area first known as Spanish Sahara – later Western Sahara. Morocco claimed control of the area, ignoring a 1963 declaration by the United Nations to recognize Western Sahara a non-self-governed territory, with a request in 1965 made to Spain to decolonize the region. When Spain finally ceded control of Western Sahara to both Morocco and Mauritania, the two nations warred over the area, as well as the Polsario Front – a Sahrawi nationalist movement. Following a UN brokered ceasefire in 1991, Morocco assumed control of the majority of the area (supported by France and the United States), with the Polisario ruling the remaining sections of Western Sahara (supported by Algeria). Spain, however, took a neutral stance – asking for a UN resolution – angering the Moroccan state. In 2020 American President Donald Trump fully recognized Morocco’s sovereignty – in return for its “normalization” of relations with Israel. Spain refused to follow suit, and along with providing medical care for Polisario leader Brahim Ghali during the pandemic, tensions with Morocco were heightened. However in March this year, Spain reversed course and endorsed a plan from Morocco to permit a Sahrawi administration to govern the region – but as a Moroccan territory with control of its miltary and foreign affairs from Rabat. The move from Madrid improved relations with Morocco – and simultaneously angered Algeria.
In the penultimate Round of 16 match, improved political relations may not be mirrored as Spain and Morocco square off. Morocco – surprise winner of Group F – will hope to continue its early tournament success against one of the pre-tournament favourites and 2010 World Cup winners. With its young star midfielders Pedri and Gavi leading the way, Spain hopes to return to the form it showed in its first game in Qatar – a 7-0 victory over Costa Rica – after drawing and losing its remaining group matches.
By Tim Elcombe
These two European nations have longstanding relations with the government of Portugal recognising the principle of Swiss neutrality in 1815. Consular relations were established at the same time, though the first formal agreement between the two states was only signed in 1883. Switzerland, with 29% foreign-born residents in 2019, ranks third in Europe, just after the microstates of Liechtenstein (67%) and Luxemburg (47%). If the trend observed since 2011 continues, by 2025, one in three residents in Switzerland will have been born abroad. A significant factor in their relations is the existence of 260,000 Portuguese nationals living in Switzerland. This is the third-largest foreign community in Switzerland, a remarkable number given the close proximity and long historical ties that exit with countries with the first and second largest foreign communities – Italy and Germany. It ranks ahead of France and outnumbers the population of Portugal’s second city Porto, meaning only the capital Lisbon houses more Portuguese than Switzerland. The reason for this is the 1980s special agreement with Portugal which invited workers to come and fill the gaps in the Swiss work force with the understanding they would return to Portugal. In the other direction According to Organisation of Swiss Abroad, 5379 Swiss nationals were living in Portugal at the end of 2021. Switzerland and Portugal cooperate at the multilateral level, especially within the UN, particularly the UN Security Council. Both countries were founder members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) served to foster intergovernmental relations in the period between 1960 and 1985. From 1963 to 1975, Switzerland represented Portuguese interests in Senegal. In 2020, Switzerland exports to Portugal were valued as $828 million, making it Switzerland’s 31st biggest trading partner. Switzerland main exports are pharmaceuticals, precision instruments, watches and jewellery, machines and appliances. Portugal’s $983M worth of exports to Switzerland is made up mainly of vehicles, textiles, clothing and shoes, agricultural, forestry and fishery products. However the overall trade balance is above 200% on favour of Portugal mainly thanks to the weight of Portuguese exports of services, namely travel and tourism. In 2020, Switzerland ranked 2 in the Economic Complexity Index (ECI 1.99), and 15 in total exports ($305B). That same year, Portugal ranked 45 in the Economic Complexity Index (ECI 0.47), and 43 in total exports ($62.2B). On the field, form the matches played -25 there are 11 wins for Switzerland, 9 for Portugal and 5 Draws. This will be a tight one!! By Alun Hardman
Off the soccer pitch Japan and Croatia have a long history of working together dating back to World War Two where both counties were part of the Axis powers. Following the Croatian War of Independence and Croatia’s official independence in 1991 Japan recognized the Republic of Croatia as an independent state on March 17, 1992. The two countries formally established diplomatic relations in 1993. Following the Croatian War for Independence Japan actively supported the post-war recovery and reconstruction of Croatia. Japan provided 7 million USD in 1995 for a refugee centre, since then the Embassy of Japan has supported more than 96 projects, and in particular provided donations for demining. Although Croatia is still a relatively new country it boasts a high Human Development Index ranking and is an emerging developing economy with a large service sector. Both Croatia and Japan are active members of the UN. Most recently in November 2022 the governments of Japan and the Republic of Croatia reached an agreement for Air Services. This agreement is expected to promote both personal and economic exchanges between the two countries
Even during athletic competition these two countries continue to take the opportunity to deepen their relationship. In advance of the 2002 World Cup, which Japan co-hosted, the Croatian team travelled to Tokamachi for a training camp. On the day of the Croatian team’s departure, thousands of Japanese citizens lined the streets to bid the team farewell. Croatian team captain Davor Šuker said, “No other town has ever made such an effort to truly get to know Croatia. It was a wonderful camp”. In the World Cups that have followed large crowds in Tokamachi still gather for public screening of Croatia’s big matches.
Although these two countries have a strong affiliation and respect for one another we can imagine this will be a hard fought battle as Japan looks to make their first ever quarter-final appearance at a World Cup. Japan will have to find a way to break through a tough Croatian defence that has only conceded one goal in the tournament so far. By Alanna Harman
A recurring international affairs theme highlighted by the 2022 World Cup is the creation of alliances – particulary by those typically left out of the Western dominated “world order”. With FIFA executive power largely reinforced through African, Asian, Central American, and Caribbean “one member – one vote” support, these oft-ignored nations wield significant influence in global football affairs. Historically influential football nations – represented by UEFA (Europe) and CONMEBOL (South America) – are now creating alliances to counter FIFA’s “minnow state” backed control of the world’s game.
Struggles for power and influence in wider international affairs is similarly reflected by divides between historical institutions viewed as Western-dominated (e.g. NATO, G7) and newer alliances of states often excluded from these military and economic partnerships – such as BRICS. Leaders of the original “members” of BRICs – Brazil, Russia, India, and China – first discussed an alliance in meetings paralleling the 2008 G8 (the G7 prior to Russia’s expulsion in 2014) sessions. By 2011, BRICs became BRICS with the inclusion of South Africa (and a presence on the African continent) and the bloc of “emerging markets” began exerting diplomatic and economic influence on the world stage. With widely varying political ideologies and governance systems, BRICS has achieved mixed results in terms of domestic advancement and soft power influence. Fuelled by deteriorating East-West relations, namely with China and Russia, BRICS members have promoted expansion, with nations such as Algeria, Iran, and Argentina formally applying to join the group and other state representatives from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East attending meetings. According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, over a dozen nations formally applied to join BRICS – and the anticipated new members would push the alliance to control more than 50% of oil and gas reserves, represent more than half the world’s populations, and have GDP’s signifianctly larger than the United States and EU.
While Brazil’s (and its 12th largest GDP) place in this growing geopolitical divide is obvious – as a founding member of BRICS – the Republic of Korea’s position is more complicated. Geographically located in an area mostly characterized as the Global South and on the formal margins of groups such as the G7, South Korea’s alliances still trend toward Western blocs. The world’s 10th largest economy, South Korea is expanding partnerships with NATO and continues to develop strong relations with the United States and the EU. In large part, South Korea’s apparent disinterest in joining an expanded BRICS – despite early suggestions it might – is due to its strategic role in US-Indo relations as a “global pivotal state”.
On the pitch the established football power, Brazil, will look to continue its march towards securing a 6th World Cup title. Relative newcomer South Korea – who required a goal differential tiebreak to advance to the Round of 16 – stand in the Brazilians way, and hope to continue to establish itself as an emerging global (football) power. By Tim Elcombe
The history of the European Union is reflected in large part by the post-World War II stories of Western and Eastern Europe – represented by the Round 16 opponents France and Poland respectively. With the end of the war, and after decades of political (and military) tensions across Europe, states sought to create alliances to mitigate the chance of future devastation through inter-nation conflict. In addition to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which included 10 Western European nations, a Council of Europe was formed in 1949. France was a founding member of both international organizations. In 1951, six European nations including France signed a treaty to collaborate on steel and coal production – therefore controlling the raw materials required to develop weapons of war through the European Coal and Steel Community. Eventually trade agreements led to more formal political alliances – with the formation of the European Parliament Assembly in 1958. Eventually, in the 1970s and 1980s, as the Cold War raged on, the European Communities expanded from 6 to 12 nations including the United Kingdom and Denmark in Scandanavia. Renamed the European Union (EU) in 1992, the association created singular markets and the free movement of people, a common currency (Euro), and added three more Western European nations to expand to 15.
As Western nations like France worked to build a prosperous and peaceful European Union during the Cold War, Poland endured hard years behind the Iron Curtain. The Eastern European nation became part of the Soviet-led Eastern Bloc, often ruled through intimidation – best represented by the declaration of Martial Law in Poland in 1981. With the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union, Poland slowly moved towards solidarity and away from communist rule – accelerated by student and worker protests. In 1989, the Polish Round Table agreement effectively ended communism in Poland – and across the Eastern Bloc with the symbolic demolisment of the Berlin Wall in December signalling a new dawn for Europe. By 2004, Poland symbolized the new united Europe – with divisions between East and West receding – joining the EU (and previously NATO in 1999).
Today, the EU is 27 members strong with a long history of political influence that extends beyond the European continent. But not only is Europe a political power, but its regional football governing body (UEFA) is the global game’s trongest and most influential – regularly struggling for power with FIFA – and winners of 12 of 21 World Cups and five of the past six tournaments. Regardless of who wins this European battle, a UEFA nation will advance to the quarter finals.
England briefly occupied Senegal from the French in 1693, and then moved into Senegal again in 1758 as a result of the Seven Years War. At the end the British were successful enough to hold onto the colony and combined it with the Gambian colony to be known as Senegambia. England retained this colony for almost two decades, during the American Revolutionary Wars the French re-took Senegal. During the Napoleonic Wars the French used this colony as a base to restock before continuing their action against the Royal Navy, as such the Royal Navy re-seized the colony. Senegal remained under British control until 1816 when it was once again returned to the French as part of the Congress of Vienna terms to end the Napoleonic Wars. In 1960 Senegal gained independence from France.
Today international relations between England and Senegal are limited. The United Kingdom has taken an active role in trying to stabilize the Sahel region of which Senegal is included . From 2019 – 2021 the United Kingdom committed $200 million in development assistance across the Sahel. Development assistance is focused on food security and the compounding impact of the global climate crisis. West Africa has been described as of “strategic importance” to the United Kingdom and as such the United Kingdom continues invest in this region. However, recent instability in the Sahel region in particular in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger has led to the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). The United Kingdom continues to engage in trade with Senegal, Senegal is their 112th largest trading partner. The largest export from the United Kingdom is refined oil, and the largest export from Senegal to the United Kingdom are fruits and vegetables.
Senegal the Africa Cup of Nations 2022 Champions is currently under FIFA investigation for failing to send a player to the press conference in advance of their game against Ecuador. Germany who also breached the same rule in advance of their game against Spain was fined 10,000 Swiss Francs. In this first time match-up between Senegal and England there will certainly be some familiarity between the two teams as several Senegalese national team members play in the English Premier League. By Alanna Harman
Netherlands are considered by many to be best team not to win a FIFA World Cup, losing to Germany (1974), Argentina (1978) and Spain (2010). They are participating in their 11th World Cup, the same number as the USA, whose best finish was 3rd in in the inaugural competition in Uruguay in 1930. The USMNT have a 1-4-0 record v the Oranje. On an individual level, current starting defender, Seginio Dest was born in the Netherlands and Dutch legends such as Johan Cruyff, Dick Advocaat Johan Neeskins did much to promote early iterations of the NASL. The USA established formal diplomatic relations with the Netherlands in 1782, just the third country to do so. There are firm bilateral relationships based on close historical and cultural bonds, a common dedication to individual freedom, democratic principles, and human rights. Both have similar positions on many issues and work bilaterally and multilaterally in such institutions as the United Nations (UN) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Bank, IMF, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). US forces were critical for the liberation of Netherlands WWII The Netherlands have fought alongside the United States in the Korean War (1950-1953), the first Gulf War (1990-1991) and has contributed to global peacekeeping efforts in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Mali. The Netherlands played a leading role in the 1999 Kosovo air campaign and contributed to European Union (EU) peacekeeping forces in Bosnia. The Netherlands was one of NATO’s 12 founding members in 1949 and supported and participated in NATO training efforts in Iraq, EU and NATO police training efforts in Afghanistan, the 2011 NATO mission in Libya, as well as EU and NATO counter-piracy operations. The Netherlands is now deploying troops to the Alliance’s eastern flank in response to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. The US have an Army Base in Schinnen, Netherlands and the Nato Joint Force Command Headquarters is located at Brunssum, one of three operational level commands in the NATO command structure. Dutch commercial activity in the US is legendary. The Dutch ’purchased’ Manhattan from the Lenape in 1626 and then gave up the colony of New Netherlands and the city of New Amsterdam to the English in 1664. The Dutch legacy in New York is enshrined in places such as Brooklyn (Breuckelen), Harlem (Haarlem) and more widely within the US Presidents Martin Van Buren, Warren G. Harding, and Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt are forebearers of an estimated 3.7 million Americans claim total or partial Dutch heritage. A lasting legacy of Dutch-American colonial disputes in South East Asia involves the Island of Palmas (or Miangas) – an argument that now is for Indonesia and the Philippines to resolve. The Netherlands is one of the biggest investors in the United States, supporting over 800,000 jobs, and is the eighth largest importer of U.S. goods. The United States is the largest foreign direct investor in the Netherlands ($885 billion in 2021) and has its second largest bilateral trade surplus in the world with this country ($18.2 billion in 2021). The countries do diverge with regards to foreign and economic relations with China and markedly around Drug Policy. By Alun Hardman
Shortly after World War Two Australia and Argentina established diplomatic relations in 1959. During the Falklands War between Argentina and the United Kingdom, Australia a member of the British Commonwealth sided with the United Kingdom and imposed sanctions and refused all imports from Argentina. Since the Falklands War relations between the two countries have slowly improved. The 2018 G20 Summit in Buenos Aires marked the first visit of an Australian Prime Minister to Argentina. The Australian Government through the Direct Aid Program provides financial support to projects in Argentina including “primary health care, rural education, women’s economic empowerment, and indigenous development with a special focus on COVID-19 recovery”. Australian firms have invested around $1 billion dollars in Argentina. In 2020 investments reached $765 million, a particular sector of interest has been mining.
As a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Argentina has used this an opportunity to highlight the “double standard of some Western powers such as Britain that apply one criteria in Europe and another in South America”. Unlike during the Falklands War Australia has not explicitly stated a position with regards to the Falklands Islands, however, Australia has continuously shown support for Ukraine’s sovereignty.
On the soccer pitch this is the first time since 2006 that Australia’s Socceroos have made the knockout stage of the World Cup. When these two countries met at the 2021 Olympics Australia upset Argentina with a 2-0 win. Argentina, a historical soccer powerhouse will be looking to rectify their reputation and continue to push forward in the World Cup tournament which is likely Messi’s last. By Alanna Harman
The nations of Uruguay and Ghana meet in a clash of great importance for both sides. A win for Ghana will secure their place in the knockout stages of the tournament. Even a draw would be enough to see the ‘Black Stars’ go through, provided Portugal is able to see off South Korea in Group H’s other concluding match. Uruguay, on the other hand, must win and then hope that South Korea do not pull off the admittedly unlikely upset over group leaders Portugal by a greater goal difference. A draw would eliminate Uruguay from the World Cup.
This matchup represents a rare case where the two nations’ international relations history is eclipsed by their footballing history. Now meeting in the World Cup for the second time, Uruguay and Ghana first went head-to-head in the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup – a dramatic match burned into the memories of both nations. In what would end up being a 1-1 (4-2 on penalties) Uruguayan victory, Ghanaian hearts were broken in the 120th minute when a clear winning goal was swiped away on the goal line by the outstretched hand of Uruguayan striker Luis Suárez. While Suárez left the game with a red card, Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan failed to convert the resulting penalty. The controversial loss denied Ghana the chance to become the first African nation to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup. To get another chance at making history, Ghana will need to exact their revenge on Suárez’s Uruguay.
With little diplomatic engagement between them despite their burgeoning football rivalry, Ghana and Uruguay actually have many commonalities. Both countries are post-colonial states grouped into the ‘Global South’. They also both represent the most stable and free democracies on their respective continents. In football terms, both nations have been pioneers. Uruguay was the first South American football team to compete in the Olympics in 1924 and was the host nation and champion of the first World Cup in 1934. The Ghanaian Football Association is Africa’s oldest such association, founded in 1920. Ghana’s football team was also the first team from Sub-Saharan Africa to qualify for the Olympics in 1964. By Anthony Samuels
Diplomatic ties between the two nations are over 60 yrs old, and were established in 1961 once stability was established in the Korean peninsula following the Kroean war. Since then, good relations, particularly around trade and tourism have existed. Trade agreements in 1977, industrial and technical cooperation in 1985, and on mutual protection on investment in were signed in 1990. Trade between the two nations have clear potential for growth, as latest bilateral trade sits at less than $1 billion. Another area for cooperation is the green economy and climate and digital transition as both are advanced in the renewable energy sector. Hanwha Q Cells are building solar power plant in Portugal as we speak. As like-minded countries in the international community, they defend the same principles such as human rights, democracy, and conflict resolution. UN mandated forces from both Korea and Portugal provided the peacekeeping mainstay to stabilise Portugal’s former colony, East Timor following the violent response of pro-Indonesian militias to the populations overwhelming vote for independence. This incident reflected Portugal’s long colonial history, based mainly around coastal trading ports, but included large land areas such as Brazil, Angola and Mozambique. The countries have provided the most recent secretary generals to the United Nations in Ban Ki-moon and António Guterres. In term of football, there is one significant link - Paulo Bento from Portugal is coaching the Korean football team. Inevitably the personality that will dominate this game will be Cristiano Ronaldo, who though a global superstar, upset Korean fans when he failed to turn out for Juventus during a pre-season promotional match against the K-League all-star team in 2019. By Alun Hardman
According to estimates from a Medecins Sans Frontiers report in 1999 (based on United Nations data) more than 600,000 ethnic Albanians fled Kosovo in the month after NATO began air raids against Yugoslavian (primarily Serbian) forces accused of ethnic cleansing.The more than half a million refugees joined an approximately 1.8 million Albanians who left prior to the start of the Kosovo War. Many of those refugees, with great difficulty, resettled in Western Europe – including Switzerland. Today, an approximate 200,000 Kosovo Albanians call the Swiss nation home. Two prominent Swiss players likely to feature in today’s match – Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri – are both of Albania descent (Shaqiri was born in Kosovo). When Switzerland played Serbia in the 2018 World Cup in Russia, both players scored in their 2-1 victory – and celebrated with a double eagle salute. The gesture represented the two eagles featured on their ethnic Albanian flag – and inflamed Serbian (and Russian) spectators at the stadium and beyond. The game was already filled with political tensions, as several Serbian fans wore t-shirts featuring the “Butcher of Bosnia” – Ratko Mladic – and booed Shaqiri and Xhaka throughout the warm-up. After their respective goals and double eagle salutes, the Serbian Football Association formally complained to FIFA, who resisted suspending the two players for their “crowd disturbance and display of political and offensive messages” but fined them each 10,000 Swiss francs.
The rematch between Serbia and Switzerland, and from a political perspective the Serbs and Albanian-Swiss players, will undoubtedly be tense today. Not only do both teams stand a chance to progress to the knockout phase (Serbia must win, Switzerland might move on with a tie), but the political dynamics between Kosovo and Serbia are currently fraught with a dispute over Serb state car license plates issued to pro-Serbian Kosovo residents (See the Day 4 Daily Brief for Brazil v Serbia for more on this dispute). Adding fuel to the political fire – and raising fears of troubles during today’s match – the Serbian team was fined by FIFA earlier this past week for hanging a map of Serbia that included Kosovo and the worlds “No Surrender” scrolled across. By Tim Elcombe
When Cameroon took the field to take on Argentina in their first match of the 1990 World Cup in Italy, few gave the sub-Saharan national team a chance. Argentina, the reigning World Cup champions and featuring the great Diego Maradona, entered Italia ’90 as tournament favourites. Cameroon, in contrast, had only qualified for a second time, and lost all three matches in their 1982 debut. But after Françoi Omam-Biyik scored for Cameroon in the 67th minute, despite being down one man after a red card, the African nation held on (with another red card disqualification limiting them to 9 men on the field) to defeat Argentina. Dubbed the Miracle of Milan, Cameroon’s victory is still considered one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history (Argentina’s first game loss to Saudi Arabia in this year’s tournament is added to that list). The green Cameroonian jersey that famous day featured a large, yellow lion head – representative of the national team’s nickname the Indomitable Lions. Cameroon’s victory, and green shirt, became sources and symbols of not just Cameroon, but African pride.
Cameroon’s last Group G opponent is the great rival of Argentina, and similarly wears one of football (and sports in general) most famous shirts – Brazil. The yellow jersey of The Seleçâo has been worn through the years by the greats of Brazilian football including Pelé, Garrincha, Ronaldo, Zico and Ronaldinho. Neymar, the latest in this line of global Brazilian football stars, will likely miss today’s match due to injury, but the iconic yellow jersey still holds its power over global football. Winners of five World Cups, and favourites to win in Qatar, football serves as an important part of Brazil’s national identity. However Brazil’s yellow jersey has also become a marker of the South American nation’s political divisions. First worn en masse by protesters calling for left-wing President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, the shirt for many became a symbol of right-wing nationalism. Jair Bolsonaro and his supporters co-opted the yellow jersey of The Seleçâo during his successful 2018 Presidential campaign – and again employed the symbols of the Brazilian national team for his failed attempt at re-election this past October. Supporters of Bolsinaro’s opponent, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, instead adopted the green alternate jersey of Brazil.
Whether Brazil chooses to wear yellow or green today, it should be a great game with Cameroon hoping to pull another historic upset to reach the next round. And regardless of the uniform, the deep political divide at home in Brazil will continue. By Tim Elcombe
It’s the 12th vs 2nd in FIFA rankings between these to UEFA powerhouses. There have been diplomatcic relations between the two countries since 1991, when Croatia declared its independence as a result of the violent break-up of the former Yugoslavia – the last war on European soil, before the current one in Ukraine. Since then Croatia has joined NATO (2009) and become the EU’s (2013) most recent member. Belgium supports Croatia’s further European integration in terms of adoption of the Euro currency and OECD membership. The post COVID and Ukrainian war uncertainties have led to greater interest in an even more investment friendly environment. The Croatian ex-pat community in Belgium consists of about 10,000 people with a high concentration in Liege. Recent clashes between these two ageing teams, because of their competitive status and rankings, have mainly been in the knockout stages of major tournaments and are fairly even. The ethnic diversity of the Belgium team – reflects the country’s longstanding status as a country of immigration.
Canada and Morocco have had strong diplomatic relations since 1962 and “positive bilateral relations, including in the areas of trade, culture, and the promotion of women’s rights”. From 2019 – September 2022 Canada and Morocco co-chaired the Global Counter-Terrorism Forum (GCTF). Canada also supports Morocco’s counterterrorism efforts through the Counter-Terrorism Capacity Building Program (CTCBP). “Since 2017, the CTCBP has disbursed over $9.1 million in bilateral and regional programming in Morocco”. The overall objective of Canada’s development program in Morocco is to reduce inequity and poverty with a particular focus on women and girls. Part of Canada’s development program in Morocco is to improve the quality of education. Following post-COVID lockdowns Universities Canada launched The Global Skills Opportunity program, “the federal government’s outbound student mobility program for Canadian college and undergraduate-level university students from across the country to acquire global skills, that will allow us [Canadian Universities] to build on our relationship with Morocco”.
While, for the most part Canada and Morocco have maintained positive international relations, recent changes to Quebec’s Experience Program (PEQ) has created some tension. The PEQ program allows immigrant students who earn their degree in Quebec and temporary skilled workers to quickly obtain permanent residency within Quebec. The increased work requirements and French language ability are seen as prohibitive and a systematic measure to reduce immigration within the province. Quebec has overwhelmingly been the province of choice of Moroccans given that 35% of Morocco speaks French, a result of French colonialism. Critics of the reform note that Quebec is eager to accept the higher tuition fees that international students pay but are not providing them with a career pathway following graduation. Further, critics are also concerned of the economic impact this reform may have on Quebec as Canada at large looks to welcome international students to help address a current labour shortage. If Quebec becomes viewed as an unhospitable locale international students and workers will seek opportunities elsewhere. By Alanna Harman
On the pitch we can expect Canada to come out fighting, looking for their first win in the tournament, and to show that they belong on the world soccer stage. Morocco has had a strong showing so far beating Belgium 2-0, their first win at a World Cup since 1998 they are looking to continue to build on that momentum and add another win to their resume.
Although Spain and Japan are separated by more than 10,000 kilometers, there is a strong affinity between the two nations. Diplomatic relations between Japan and Spain were established in 1868 with the signing of the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation. Since the signing of the 1868 Treaty diplomatic relations between Spain and Japan have been cordial except for a brief period time during the Second World War. Prior to 1945 Spain had celebrated the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and even supplied Japan with war materials. However, diplomatic ties between the two nations were broken when Japanese troops destroyed the Spanish Consulate and assassinated Consular officials in Manila, Philippines which was occupied by Japan at the time.
Since post World War Two the two counties have sought out numerous opportunities to strengthen their international relations. Since 1997 the two countries have hosted the Japan-Spain Symposium where leaders from various sectors meet. As well, the two countries have developed 12 sister-city agreements. Presently, there is a strong interest to increase bilateral cooperation between Spain and Japan. Spain is looking to strengthen their position in the Indo-Pacific maritime corridor, an area of growing economic and strategic importance. At the most recent NATO summit both world leaders took the opportunity for a sit-down meeting to discuss the expected cooperation of the two countries in areas such as “renewable energies including hydrogen and wind power, digitalization etc., and cooperation in third-country markets such as Latin American and Caribbean would increase”.
Today, there is a mutual admiration for their respective cultures. There are numerous followers of the Liga de Fútbol Professional in Japan, and Spaniards acknowledge the technological excellence of Japanese corporations and have shown an interest in the country’s cuisine.
Japanese soccer/football fans have recently gained global recognition for cleaning up the stands following Japan’s matches. This aspect of Japanese culture is known as ‘atarimae’, a Japanese fan described ‘atarimae’ as “What we’re taught is that leaving things cleaner than the way you found it is atarimae. And that we should always express gratitude”. Japanese fans have followed through with this tradition even after hard fought losses. If Japan losses this match they will be eliminated, Spain needs a win or draw to advance to the round of 16. Perhaps the strength of this international relationship will see both sides of fans cleaning the stadium following the game.
Costa Rica and Germany have a long history of strong bilateral relations but very little history on the soccer field. This is their second ever match. The first was at the 2006 World Cup when Germany beat Costa Rica 4-2.
Germany and Costa Rica participate together in the Alliance for Multilateralism, an association that brings together countries that value strong and effective multilateral cooperation, based on the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and international law.
Bilateral relations between the two countries range from trade and economic exchange (e.g. agricultural products, mechanical engineering, medical technology), cultural and academic relations, and collaboration on climate change and other environmental issues. Germany is one of Costa Rica’s most important trading partners in the European Union, many German companies operate in Costa Rica, and many Costa Ricans have German ancestral roots. For these reasons, among many others, the two countries have very strong ties.
Due to their strong ties (and of course Costa Rica’s biodiversity, beautiful coastlines, and untouched rainforests), the Costa Rican tourism industry relies heavily on tourism from Germany. Of all mainland European countries, Germany generates the most tourists to Costa Rica. From January to August 2022, 43,505 German tourists arrived in Costa Rica by air.
Germany is favoured for this game and the outcome will determine if either team moves on to the next round. By Jennifer Jaeger
Two of the 2022 Qatar World Cup’s most outspoken national Football Association critics face off in Game #37 of the tournament. Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal, prior to playing Denmark in a “friendly” match in March, 2022, called the decision to hold the World Cup in Qatar “ridiculous”. The outspoken Van Gaal accused FIFA of focusing on “money and commercial interests” rather than the development of football. The Dutch football association (KNVB) created a commission and travelled to Qatar to investigate human rights abuses in the host nation two years prior to the World Cup, demanding that progress on LGBTQ+, migrant, and women’s rights be a legacy of the mega sport event. The KNVB created a “Football Supports Change” project – working with organizations such as Amnesty International, the International Labour Organization, and the Building and Wood Workers’ International group. However the Netherlands team, along with six other UEFA national sides (Belgium, Denmark, England, Germany, Switzerland, and Wales) all backed down from a promise for captains to wear rainbow coloured One Love armbands in support of LGBTQ+ rights when threatened with “sporting sanctions” (yellow cards) by FIFA.
The Australian team has similarly been outspoken about Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers and human rights record. In the months leading up to the tournament, the Socceroos released a video featuring 16 players calling for lasting reforms in Qatar. The Qatari’s responded to the video, claiming “no country is perfect”, citing the role of the World Cup to enact lasting change, and subtly criticizing Australian treatment of its Indigenous population. Further complicating the Australian rebuke, the Socceroos secured the prime lodging and training location in Qatar for the tournament – the Aspire Academy. Tim Cahill, likely the best footballer in Australian history, has become the Aspire Academy’s Chief Sports Officer and an ambassador for the Qatar World Cup.
In 1881, the most northern African nation, Tunisia, became a “protectorate” (through treaty) of France. The European power maintained control of the territory until 1956. Over the 75 years of the protectorate, French institutions and political structures were installed in Tunisia, although a longstanding push for sovereignty grew over the decades. After Tunisian independence, the nation went through many changes, but maintained relations with the West and developed a free market economy.
By December 2010, Tunisia had been led for 23 consecutive years by President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. However young Tunisians in particular struggled for quality employment and bristled at oppressive policies employed by Ben Ali. A young market vendor that December set himself on fire to protest police coercion. The act led to uprisings across Tunisia, and a strong and often violent response from police. Sensing the growing dissatisfaction and unable to turn the tide of resistance despite promises of reform, Ben Ali escaped to Saudi Arabia and an interim government took his place. The Tunisian uprising spread first to Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen – with
rulers beyond Ben Ali deposed – and extended into other Arab nations. The movement, often led by young people, is today referred to as the Arab Spring.
Relations between the North African nation and France today are considered strong, with the French government recently pledging €200 million to support Tunisia as it struggles economically. However, when Tunisian President Kais Saied allegedly “bowed” to Emmanuel Macron in a meeting to thank the French President, criticism from home was plentiful. Today the Tunisian diaspora in Europe is significant, with footballers including 2022 France national team member Wissam Ben Yedder an example of generations of French citizens of Tunisian descent.
While France has already confirmed its place in the next round on the field, Tunisia’s hopes rest on victory over the reigning World Cup champions and (just enough) help from Denmark in its match against Australia.
The battle for a position in the knockout round from Group C is perhaps the most intense of all eight groups. Particular attention is to be paid to the matchup between group leaders Poland and tournament title favourites Argentina on Wednesday November 30th. Following impressive 2-0 victories in their previous matches’ with stunning goals from team captains Lionel Messi (Argentina) and Robert Lewandowski (Poland) the two sides have renewed hopes for their tournament prospects. Both players were visibly emotional after finding the net, especially Lewandowski who ended a drought of four world cup games without a goal. These results displayed how much representing their country on the international stage means to the two football stars.
The connection between Poland and Argentina moves beyond football for some. Polish immigration to South America is a lesser known story of Polish migration. Argentina was a popular destination for many migrants in the “era of mass migration” which spanned from the 1800s to the 1930s and made Argentina the second largest immigrant destination following the United States. Polish migrants were the third largest immigrant community to Argentina after Spaniards and Italians. The first major era of Polish migration to Argentina was in the late 19th century as Poles were fleeing uprisings against occupiers of Poland and men were recruited to Argentina and fight in the Paraguayan War (1864-1870). Today, the Polish community in Argentina remains very active. Significant Polish populations reside in Misiones, Buenos Aires, and Rosario. Several Polish institutions are running in Argentina as well, including the Unión de los Polacos which is one of the most important organizations for the Polish community in Buenos Aires as it offers cultural activities, Polish language classes, and hosts events for Polish dignitaries. In addition, several Polish symbols such as monuments and street names can be found throughout Argentina. Perhaps the most significant integration of Polish immigrants in Argentina is the naming of June 8th as the “Day of the Polish Settler” from 1995 Argentine government.
The global connection between Poland and Argentina will be on full display as the two nations face off in a pivotal match as households in Argentina will be hoping for both Polish and Argentine success. By Mark Pompilii
If the reaction to Saudi Arabia’s first game upset of Argentina is any indication, a win for the KSA over Mexico and guaranteed progression to the knockout round would be met with great enthusiasm from the Arab Peninsula’s leadership. After defeating the two-time World Cup champions from South America, King Salman declared a national holiday in Saudi Arabia. Moving to the Round of 16 would be a first for Saudi Arabia. Conversely, Mexico has reached (and lost) in the Round of 16 the past seven tournaments – but struggled in the first two matches in 2022 and must win to keep their streak alive.
Compounding Mexico’s challenges at the 2022 tournament, FIFA opened an investigation into Mexican (and Ecuadorian) supporters homophobic chants directed towards Polish players during their 0-0 draw. The Mexican Football Association has repeatedly been sanctioned by FIFA for the use of homophobic slurs. Criticized for showing a lack of support for the LGBTQ+ community in light of Qatari laws, FIFA quickly responded to spectators’ right to bring rainbow gear into stadiums and confronted the homophobic chanting.
Both Mexico and Saudi Arabia are familiar with international condemnation on human rights issues. Saudi authorites’ human rights record, including the criminalization of same-sex sexual activity and the suppression of dissent – are highlighted by American claims that Prince Mohammad bin Salman ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. Mexico, similarly, has been named the most dangerous country in the world by Reports Without Borders due to the murder of journalists and by NGO Global Witness for violence against environmental activists.
On the pitch, Mexico – as did CONMEBOL, the South American regional football governing body – has called for unity through football. Saudi Arabia have similarly used the World Cup as a show of unity – with diplomatic foes Qatar – during the event. Mexico and Saudi Arabia have also agreed to strengthen economic relations.
Qatar enters Tuesday’s match against the Netherlands as the first nation eliminated from knockout phase qualification. With two losses in two games, the Qatari team has been a disappointment, joining only South Africa (in 2010) as a host nation that fails to move beyond the group stage. Netherlands, in contrast, remains the favourite to emerge from Group A as top seed.
Attempts to “embarrass” Qatar in a non-sporting sense, however, continue. The Netherlands Football Association and national team have been among the most outspoken critics of the 2022 World Cup hosts. During its qualifying campaign, the Netherlands joined Norway and Germany by wearing shirts in warm-up that read “Football Supports Change” following a report of migrant worker deaths. The Netherlands also planned, along with 6 other European/UK nations, for their captain to wear a “OneLove” armband rather than the FIFA issued captain’s designations. FIFA, however, told these teams players deviating from the FIFA approved armbands would be subjected to a sporting sanction – namely a yellow card that could jeopardize each team’s captain’s availability throughout the tournament. All 7 nations backed down, however German players covered their mouths against Japan as an acto of protest against Qatar’s human rights record. The Dutch team, however, has decided to not replicate the German’s actions or wear the OneLove armband – a message a top Qatari official described as “divisive”.
Ecuador and Senegal both enter the final round of group A matches with a chance to qualify for the knockout stages. Ecuador has 4 points, while Senegal has 3 – and must win to progress.
Both nations represent the Global South in the 2022 World Cup – a term that’s meaning goes beyond “geography”. Most Global South nations are those previously referred to a “Developing Nations” or “Third World Nations” – while geographically “southern” nations like Australia and New Zealand are typically excluded from this designation. Most Global South nations were “colonized” by European empires, and are typically considered “more fragile” while ranking lower in international affairs metrics such as GDP per capita and the Human Development Index. Major issues such as food security and government stability, as well as limited power and influence in global affairs. Some larger Global South nations, such as Brazil and Argentina in Latin America, China and India in Southeast Asia, South Africa, and the petroleum rich Arab Peninsula states (including Qatar) have found ways to yield influence globally – including through sport. Conversely, poorer sub-Saharan nations like Senegal, and smaller Central American nations like Ecuador struggle to play a significant role in international affairs or to develop robust economies. However one place nations like Senegal and Ecuador have found opportunities to exert power has been through FIFA’s one nation one vote governance structure. African football associations for example, have 54 votes out of the 211 FIFA members. But the power and influence of African football politics pales in comparision to South American success on the pitch, with Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay all capturing multiple World Cup titles. The smaller Ecuador joins these 3 CONMEBOL nations at the 2022 event, hoping to add a 4th champion to the list of South American champions – a longshot for the 44th ranked FIFA nation.
This might end up as one of the most politically infused matches in sport history.
USA – Iranian relations are amongst the most contentious in international affairs. Diplomatic ties were severed in 1980, with the 1979 Revolution that saw the anti-American Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini come to power and subsequent American hostage crisis, increasing the already tense relations between the two nations. Against the backdrop of this political cauldron, the USA and Iran first faced each other at the 1998 FIFA World Cup. Described as the most politically charged game in football history, the Iranian team were instructed by the Ayatollah to disregard FIFA protocol which required them, as the visiting team, to intiate handshakes with their American competitors. However in an act of peace, each Iranian player handed the Americans a white rose – before historically defeating the USA in a match that led to celebrations in the streets of Iran, raising concerns of the Iranian leadership.
The 2022 matchup of these political enemies promises no less controversy. In addition to the Trump adminstration’s 2018 withdrawal from a nuclear deal with Iran – replacing it with sanctions resulting in even further diplomatic breakdowns – recent protests in Iran as well as military support for Russia have led, primarily from Ukraine, to calls for the national team to be removed from the World Cup. In recent days, Iran has similarly called for the expulsion of the USA team after the US Soccer Federation (USSF) displayed images of the Iranian flag on social media with the Islamic Republic emblem removed – for which American coach Gregg Berhalter apologized.
There are also significant tensions internally for the Iranians. In the pre-game ceremonies of Iran’s first match against Wales, none of the players sang the national anthem as the cameras scanned the 11 starting players faces. This led to suggestions the players were engaging in an act of domestic disobedience – which they did not continue amid reports of threats of reprisals. Amongst Iranian supporters, some used the national team’s presence at the World Cup as a way to support the protests at home – leading to clashes with pro-government supporters. This included mobs of men surrounding and threatening Iranian women giving interviews to international media outlets. Reports have also suggested Qatari officials (and stadium security) are supporting measures taken by the Iranian regime to suppress protests at the World Cup – which they deny.
The matchup is also fraught from a sporting perspective, with both teams still capable of qualifying for the next round. Iran only needs a tie to progress beyond the group stage for the first time.
Cymru (Wales) is a part of the United Kingdom, so foreign relations and many domestic matters for Cymru are determined in London by the British government and Parliament's House of Commons, which includes 40 Cymru members. In 1999, the residents of Cymru narrowly voted for, and were awarded devolved power in a range of social, political and economic arenas, but in comparison to the other devolved nations of Scotland and Northern Ireland, is has fewer powers, its legal system and business environments are more interwoven with England’s. Cymru nationalism, its finds is expression through cultural markers such as language, literature in events such as the Eisteddfod, and sport where its sporting sovereignty may flourish more within, and because of the political union of the United Kingdom. Brexit and the separatist agenda in Scotland are probably problematic for Cymru, and ongoing nationalist agitation is largely grounded seated in deep class based differences born out of the industrial revolution. These between the Senedd and Westminster are currently exacerbate due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the ‘Cost-of Living-Crisis’. Anglo-Welsh rivalry in sport is fierce, historically through rugby, and more recently, football, and their changing fortunes have raised controversies, sparked by the recent pronouncement regarding who to support by the Prince of Wales and on nationality by some quarters of the populist press, who have suggested Wales are the England ‘B’ team. Alongside Cymru’s Red-wall and the England Supporters Club who have made it to support their teams in Qatar, many Cymru fans have gathered in Tenerife to follow the World Cup where the perennial scourge of football hooliganism has spilled over into sporadic violence between rival groups. and back in Cymru, some Cardiff pubs deciding to ban English fans or their songs. On the field of play Wales vs England head to head record favours the larger neighbour, with the last victory in 1984.
In 2021a delegation from Cameroon travelled to Belgrade to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). The first NAM conference was similarly held in Belgrade – then part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – in 1961. As a bloc of nations seeking to avoid formal alignment with Cold War divisions, NAM worked over the years to diffuse tensions between Cold War adversaries, push for decolonization, and pressure South Africa to rescind Apartheid policies. Made up mostly of developing nations – in Africa, the Americas, and Asia – the NAM membership is the largest grouping of states (120) next to the United Nations. Serbia, as an applicant to the EU but with sympathies to BRICS nations, as well as one of the founding members of NAM, continues its association with the group as an “observer”.
At the 2022 World Cup, both Cameroon and Serbia enter the second round of matches in the group phase needing victories. Cameroon dropped its first match to Switzerland, while Serbia fell to tournament favourites Brazil.
In July 2019, South Korean Foreign Minister H.E. Kang Kyung-wha officially visited Ghana as part of a sub-Saharan tour. The South Korean diplomatic mission was part of a larger sub-Saharan strategy from the Asian nation developed in the early years of the 21st century. The rationale for South Korea to cultivate stronger relations with sub-Saharan African (SSA) states was threefold: the desire to enhance food and energy security; to create new markets for exports; and to assert South Korea’s global power. With South Korea’s rapid modernization, it has become dependent on the Middle East for oil – particularly Iran. Gaining access to SSA nations, including Ghana’s, extensive oil and gas reserves is viewed as important for South Korean security. And with the rising influence of China in SSA, as well as North Korea’s concerted efforts to mobilize support in the African continent, South Korea feels compelled to engage in SSA diplomacy.
Ghana enters Monday’s action following a thrilling 2-3 loss to Portugal while South Korea returns to action after a scoreless draw with Uruguay.
Despite being 9000km away from their homeland, Brazilians on opposite ends of the political spectrum clashed last month at a polling station in Geneva. Right-wing supporters of incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro and left leaning Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva allies confronted one another at a Brazilian community voting station on the day of the deeply divisive election. Broader Swiss interest in the affairs of the South American nation is also high, as $3.5 billion (CHF) worth of goods are exchanged between the two nations and several Swiss companies are based in Brazil. Brazil is Switzerland’s most significant trade partner in Latin America and the nations have a long history of relations – Switzerland opened a consulate in Rio de Janeiro in 1819. The connection between Switzerland and Brazil extends into BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – nations allegiance, with the Swiss government signing a Memorandum of Understanding to further strategic partnerships.
On the pitch, tournament favourite Brazil lived up to pre-tournament expectations with a dazzling second half performance in a win against Serbia, while Switzerland squeaked out a 1-0 win over Cameroon. A win for either side would send them through to the knockout phase.
The history of the Uruguay is tied, in large part, to Portugal and the colonization of South America. The area then known as Banda Oriental sat between the Portuguese colony of Brazil and Argentina, a Spanish colony, in the 16th and 17th century. Strategic expansion by both European nations in the region spanning both sides of the coveted River Plate led to disputes and in 1811 a Portuguese invasion of the Banda Oriental. British colonizers had also entered the fray in the early 1800s in attempts to take control of Montevideo (and Buenos Aires). It wasn’t until 1828 that both Brazil – recently granted independence from Portuguese rule (1822) – and Argentina agreed to recognize Uruguay as an independent state to exist between the two powerful South American nations.
The two football powers will meet Monday looking to either secure promotion to the knock out phase (Portugal) or to keep hopes alive (Uruguay). Portugal was able to hold off a Ghana in their debut match in Qatar, winning 3-2 while Uruguay enters Monday’s match with 1 point after a 0-0 draw against South Korea.
When Belgium and Morocco kick off on Day 7, loyalties at home in the European nation may be tested amongst the nearly half a million Belgians of Moroccan descent. Over 50 years, Moroccans have migrated to Belgium primarily to work in the coal mines. While some Moroccans living in Belgium may feel torn, many have made their support for their homeland clear.
Tensions amongst Belgians of Moroccan descent escalated in 2017 after Morocco qualified for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Following the North African nation’s defeat of Ivory Coast, hundreds of Moroccan supporters gathered in the centre of Brussels, with celebrations turning violent. Police in riot gear and using water cannons were deployed to quell the situation – with many injured in the exchange.
Despite the domestic tensions, diplomatic relations between the two nations are strong. In February Belgium authorities and Moroccan community leaders recognized the role of Moroccan migrant workers to the development of the Belgian economy after World War II. In the month leading up to the start of the World Cup, Belgium’s Foreign Affairs Minister visited Morocco to consolidate diplomatic and economic ties between the two nations.
Canada marked its return to the World Cup after 36 years with an impressive performance against FIFA’s second ranked team, Belgium – despite losing 0-1. For its second match, Canada takes on the 2018 finalists and traditionally strong European side, Croatia. Tensions will be high for the match after Canadian head coach, John Herdman, was accused of disrpespecting the Croatian side with comments following the Belgium match, leading to exchanges in the national media of each nation and between both team managers.
Croatia and Canada have a complicated history. Over the course of the 20th century, an estimated 80,000 Croatians immigrated to Canada, establishing strong cultural communites across many cities in the North American nation. But during the war in Yugoslavia, Canada’s peacekeepers and Croatian forces opposed one another in the Battle of Medak Pocket. In September 1993, several hundred Canadian solders – as part of the United Nations Protective Force (UNPROFOR) – were deployed to an area in Southern Croatian known as Medak Pocket to enforce a ceasefire and protect Serbian minorities allegedly under threat from a Croatian army unit. When the Croatia military broke the ceasefire, attacking both civilian targets and the Canadian unit, a battle ensued. Within 24 hours, the Canadians pushed the Croatians back and used the power of international reporters to force the former Yugoslavian republic to back down. This battle represented Canada’s most intense military battle between the Korean War and its mission in Afghanastan. In 2016, a Croatian military commander was convicted of war crimes committed during Operation Medak Pocket. Today, Canada and Croatian relations are considered “positive and friendly”, with the two nations involved in many shared initiatives, including membership in NATO.
Today, Spain and Germany represent modern European nations. With strong and stable democracies, the two states are amongst the most influential in the European Union. Their national football teams, similarly, are amongst the world’s best and both recent World Cup champions (Spain in 2010, Germany in 2014) – and representative of European domination of the tournament with UEFA national teams lifting the World Cup the last four times (Italy 2006, France 2018). Their match on game day 7 will be amongst the most anticipated in the group phase, with both expected to move to the knockout round. However Germany’s loss to Japan in the first game puts their progression in doubt, while Spain cruised to victory in their 2022 debut.
But the ascension of Germany and Spain to their current role as influential and respected democratic EU states required significant transformation since the 1930s.
With the rise of the Nazi party in Germany and Civil War in Spain, fascist leaders Adolf Hitler and Francisco Franco assumed power in their respective nations. Franco tentatively supported Hitler in the at the start of World War II – due to ideological similarities, German reinforcement in the Spanish Civil War and a desire to disrupt the European order. Spain, however, official remained neutral during the war, and disagreements between Franco and Hitler eventually led to limited collaboration between the fascist regimes – particularly in the aftermath of the two leaders only meeting in Hendaye. Franco’s demands for land and influence angered Hitler, and rather than Spain join the Axis, the Southern European nation remained “non-beligerent”. While (West) Germany’s transition to democracy would begin with the end of the War, Franco remained in power until his death in 1975.
Just weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine, Poland signed an agreement with Aramco to supply nearly half of the Eastern European nations crude oil. Aramco, a Saudi-state owned oil company, and PKN Orlen SA, a Polish refiner, also signed a long-term deal. The agreement between the Saudis and Poland undermined Russian dominance in Eastern European oil exports – a key lever used by Putin to threaten EU support for Ukraine.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine impacted European qualification stages for the 2022 World Cup. Poland was scheduled to meet Russia in a UEFA playoff semi-final, but made their refusal to play the match clear to FIFA. Originally FIFA planned to mimic the International Olympic Committees approach to Russia (based on the state-sponsored doping scandal) by allowing the national team to continue playing without the use of flags or state symbols. Poland’s plan to boycott, joined by other playoff teams Czechia and Sweden, forced FIFA to reconsider – expelling Russia’s Football Association – as the forfeits would have guaranteed Russia a spot in Qatar. At the same time, the Ukrainian team’s playoff participation was delayed due to the invasion, forcing Scotland (whom the Ukrainians defeated) and Welsh teams to wait until after the World Cup draw to complete the qualification process. Wales eventually defeated Ukraine in August, with Poland moving to the World Cup finals after beating Sweden.
Argentina is increasingly described as an isolated nation – with neighbours of varying political stripes and ideological conflicts arising between South American nations. Although Argentina currently participates in MERCOSUR, a trade bloc that includes Brazil and Uruguay, debates have arisen over member states’ ability to negotiate individual agreements. Furthermore, Argenina in 2021 left a Latin-American (and Canadian) bloc, the Lima Group, organized to pressure Venezuela into adopting a democratic political system. Argentina’s concerns with the efficacy of the group and resultant decision to leave created significant tensions across Latin America. Another original member of the Lima Group, Mexico withdrew in 2019.
With Mexico under pressure from the United States, particularly from the Trump Administration, and Argentina increasingly isolated, the two nations have actively worked to establish partnerships – Argentina (and Brazil) are encouraging new trade agreements while Mexico supports Argentina’s claims to sovereign rights over the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands.
The World Cup hosted by Mexico in 1986 is also, arguably, Argentina’s finest (sporting) moment outside the nation’s borders – when the national team defeated England and then West Germany to capture the title, led famously by Diego Maradona.
In 2004 a Qatari state-funded sports/academic academy began operations. The Aspire Academy endeavoured to provide elite sport, particularly football, training and educational opportunities for secondary school-aged Qataris. Part of the Aspire program included the construction of the $1.3bn Aspire Dome, a mammoth cutting-edge sport facility designed to host up to 13 sport events at one time, in climate controlled conditions in the heart of Doha. In addition to the development of Qatari athletes, the Aspire Dome served as a resource for elite clubs from around the world to train and hosted numerous Asian-region sporting competitions. The Aspire Academy also began in 2007 to “export” their Aspire Football Dreams (AFD) program to seven African nations, with over 430,000 13-year olds provided with a talent identification opportunity. AFD expanded into Asia and Latin America, with 3.5 million particpants across 17 nations screened from 2007 until 2014. 18-20 of the top players identified through AFD were then offered scholarships to train and school in Qatar. Aspire also set up a satellite academy in Senegal – their second opponent in the 2022 World Cup. Legends such as Lionel Messi, Pelé, Diego Maradona, and David Beckham have all publicly lent support to the Aspire Academy.
Despite the World Cup hosts claim that AFD is a humanitarian project, critics argue it is a much more insidious tool of the Qatari state. Accusations of using the academy to influence developing nation’s bid votes in 2010, as well as suggestions the AFD program aims at encouraging African, Asian, and Latin American players to “naturalize” and represent Qatar, suggest the Aspire Academy is a method of sportswashing.
This will be the first match between Netherlands and Ecuador in a competitive tournament, but relations between the two nations is significant. Based on a bilateral agreement signed in 2019, the two nations aim to generate sustainably responsible trade and cultural exchange. According to bilaterals.org, the Netherlands are Ecuador’s second largest investors, with over $1B invested in mining, agriculture, gas, as well as food products: bananas, flowers, cocoa, and seafood. Seven thousand Ecuadorians are reported to be studying at Dutch universities, with significant tourism to Ecuador from the Netherlands enhancing the Central American nation’s economy.
From a wider perspective, relations between the EU and Central America have evolved since the 1980s when Europe took a more active role in supporting peace processes in Latin America. Living in the shadow of larger nations to the south creating a powerful trade bloc in MERCOSUR, and trade pacts involving Canada, the United States, and Mexico to the north, Central American nations like Ecuador struggle to find its geopolitical footing. But the one member nation, one vote governance structure of FIFA has provided Central American and neighbouring Caribbean states with influence in the global game, providing a rare opportunity to exert power over Europe.
The last game of Day 5 features the two nations most responsible for the rise of international sport and the “soft power” that comes with it: England and the United States. In the late 1800s, Britain used sport as a tool to develop character and resilience through public (privileged) school competition. As the British Empire spread, it used the modern sports “invented” along the way to make the world “more British”. Games like cricket, rugby, and football “followed the flag” and became tools for colonization and cultural domination. Inspired by the British sporting culture, French Baron Pierre de Coubertin revived the Olympics in 1896 as a tool to engage the youth of France and to create a sporting spectacle (for “gentlemen”) capable of bringing the world together through peaceful competition.
The Americans arrived at the 1896 Olympics as a growing world power, challenging the British for economic (and technological) domination. The Olympics served as an opportunity for the Americans to demonstrate their “exceptionalism” through athletic success – and set the nation on its way to become the global (sporting) superpower. But association football (soccer), a “global” rather than American game, failed to take hold in the USA until the mid-1990s with Women’s Team success and the hosting of the 1994 World Cup serving as impetus for more investment – including the creation of Major League Soccer (MLS).
Switzerland has a long reputation for peace, neutrality and diplomacy. It is also the headquarters for many global institutions such as the United Nations and of, course FIFA Immigration. In 2021 Switzerland published its sub-Sahara Africa strategy where there is recognition of its committed role in brokering peace in the conflict in the Northwest Region and Southwest Region of Cameroon since 2019. With both Switzerland and Cameroon sharing a common language, a migration policy agreement was established with in 2014. Trade volume is low and fluctuates around CHF 15 million a year. The Swiss private sector is present, mainly through multinational companies. Human Rights Watch report armed groups and government forces committed human rights abuses, including mass killings, across Cameroon’s Anglophone regions and in the Far North region. The crisis has continued unabated for five years, with over 712,000 people internally displaced. This will be the first time Switzerland and Cameroon face each other in men's football. Breel Embolo, the Ligue 1 forward with AS Monaco will go up against his country of birth. Born in the Cameroonian capital Yaoundé, his mother first moved to France and then through her re-marriage, moved to when he was 6. At 17 he opted to play for his adopted country.
Uruguay and the Republic of Korea are important trade partners. In particular, Uruguay exports $70 million (USD) worth of Sulfate Chemical Woodpulp to South Korea – a material used in the production of significant paper goods (such as toilet and tissue paper and paperpoard for boxes), clothing (rayon and acetate), and as a food thickener. In turn, South Korea exports metal and parts for vehicle construction and technology development – upwards of $85M (USD) per year. Trade between the two nations is expected to grow, however, as Uruguay’s association with MERCOSUR – a South American trade bloc that also includes Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay – seeks to develop bilateral economic ties with South Korea. Regional blocs like MERCOSUR and BRICS continue to evolve, in large part to challenge the dominance of North American and European controlled international association. Establishing ties with Asian nations such as South Korea further this attempt to upend the established “world order”.
Ghana’s road to independence travelled a long and winding road since Portuguese traders first travelled to the West African coastal region in the 15th century. Colonized in 1482, the area became known as the Portuguese Gold Coast as the European nation built fortresses (primarily Elmina Castle) for trade and to defend their “territory”. The Portuguese used both gifts and violence to establish their presence in West Africa, and included the transport of slaves to the coast for labour and exportation. The ivory and gold trade eventually brought the Dutch West Indies Company to the Gold Coast, and in 1637 defeated the Portuguese and took control of Elmina Castle. By the end of the 1800s, only the British remained and Gold Coast becamse a Crown colony. In 1957 Gold Coast became an independent nation, renamed Ghana, and member of the British Commonwealth.
Yesterday (November 23), leaders of Kosovo and Serbia struck a deal through European Union negotiators to resolve a two-year dispute over car license plates. Serbia had been issuing plates for Kosovo cities to Serb minorities living in the disputed territory. Kosovo authorities threatened to fine the estimated 10,000 users of the Serbian plates, often leading to tense and even violent resistance from pro-Serbian citizens. Up to 50,00 ethnic Serbs live in northern Kosovo and refuse to recognize Kosovo’s independence and have created many parallel institutions – making the license plate issue a potentially dangerous one.
Kosovo’s Albanian majority claimed independence in 2008 from Serbia and was supported by 101 nations by 2020. However several nations, including China, Russia, India, and Serbia’s opponent on Day 4 of the 2022 World Cup, Brazil, support the former Yugoslavian Republic’s authority over Kosovo. Not yet a member of the European Union – Serbia applied in 2009 – its refusal to support EU positions on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as well as support from Brazil, Russia, India, and China, have led to suggestions Serbia could join an expanded BRICS coalition.
Day 3, Round 1
In 1976 the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) claimed control over the former Spanish territory of Western Sahara, resulting in a land dispute with the Northern African nation, Morocco. The Polisaro Front, an organization consisting mostly of indigenous inhabitants of the disputed land, declared control on behalf of the SADR. International recognition of the territory divides the United Nations, with 45 member states – mostly across Africa and Central America – supporting the SADR. Several nations in recent years suspended previous support for the SADR. Morocco’s first opponent in the 2022 World Cup, Croatia, support their claim to the Western Sahara – championing Morocco’s diplomatic attempts to reach a political solution to the territorial dispute.
There are many parallels on and off the field between these two nations. In football they are respectively Asia’s and Europe’s most successful footballing nations. They are also frequent Mega event hosts, both hosting the Olympic Games twice - Tokyo 1964, and the delayed 2020 games for Japan, and 1972 and 1936 in Germany. The Munich games saw the first major terrorist incident and the infamous 1936 Berlin Games dubbed the Nazi Olympics, provided absolute proof of the relationship between sport and political ideology. Germany hosted the World Cup in 1974 and 2006 as did Japan alongside co-hosts the Republic of Korea in 2002 In hard-power politics they constituted the main Axis powers of WW2. After their successful post-war rebuilds, Germany and Japan have become the 4th and 3rd largest economies repectively with very close economic, trade, and political ties Their twentieth century conflicts remain vivid in the memory and both show reticence to form military alliances - a stance that is being increasingly tested with the war in Ukraine in the case of Germany and for Japan, tensions with North Korea and China.
The second game for Group E participants features Spain and one of its former colonies, Costa Rica. First visited by Columbus in 1502, it would be nearly 50 years before Juan de Cavallon colonized the Central American coastal region known as the “Rich Coast”. As part of New Spain, Costa Rica was mostly a poor and neglected part of the Kingdom of Guatemal due to its location and lack of gold. In 1821, like other Central American nations, Costa Rica declared its independence, and today is considered a highly education and stable democracy.
Canada returns to the World Cup for the first time since 1986 – only to face Kevin DeBruyne and FIFA’s second ranked national team, Belgium, in their return. In 2022 the two nations share strong diplomatic and economic ties. However, for a period in October 2016, tensions between Canada and Belgium emerged. In 2017 the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) came into effect after years of negotiations. As the Trump administration’s tariff and protectionism policies took aim at both Europe and Canada, both sides reinforced their commitment to free and open trade, as well as strengthened diplomatic ties. However CETA almost collapsed in 2016 when Belgium refused to sign the historic deal. Wallonia, a socialist, French-speaking region in Belgium, failed to support the international trade pact, stalling procedings. Eventually Belgium supported CETA, and the agreement was ratified.
Day 2, Round 1
This match-up between fellow G20 members pits the country with the third-largest economy in Latin America against the largest and one of the most powerful nations in the middle-east – economically, if not militarily. They also have in common enduring but sometimes fractious alliances with western nations, particularly the USA. But both nations, standing outside the G7 and North Atlantic and European groupings have sought out similar geo-political relations, most notably the BRICS - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. This informal group of the leading emerging economies was identified in the early 2000s, and there is some recent speculation as to whether both Argentina and Saudi Arabia will join the original BRICS – a move seen by some as an effort to counterbalance the recent resurgence of Western strategic alliances focused explicitly on Russia and potentially China. Since 2000 the BRICS and both Argentina and Saudi have experienced varying different growth paths and their significance in the global economy at a time of considerable geopolitical uncertainty remains an open question. Argentina, though possessing exceptional natural and human resources, and remains a country with great promise was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and continues to endure high levels of inflation and poverty. Its government has significant involvement in the country’s fiscal and monetary policies and continue to fuel market distortions, that have in the past required significant international support. Saudi Arabia, with the second largest oil reserves and sixth largest gas reserves will play a key part in the worlds de-carbonization efforts, one way or another. Energy-transition projects involving solar and green hydrogen as well as Argentina’s reserves of strategic minerals for electro mobility, such as copper and lithium were at the center of a recent pre- COP27 meeting between the foreign ministers of both countries. On the field the two countries have never met in major tournament play, but in other events, the record favors the Albicelestes, with two wins and two draws in their previous four matches. The Green Falcons are unlikely to upset what is likely to be Lionel Messi’s final attempt to fulfil his destiny by adding a World Cup winning medal to his recent triumph as captain at the COPA America
This Tuesday matchup features Denmark in action for the first time in the 2022 World Cup. One of the most outspoken football associations against Qatar, the Danish plan to wear “muted” jerseys. Denmark’s kit supplier, Hummel, wanted the basic kits to serve as a protest over Qatar’s human rights record and treatment of migrant workers – and to not make their logo visible during the World Cup. On their social media platforms, Hummel "We don't wish to be visible during a tournament that has cost thousands of people their lives”. How Tunisian and Qatari supporters view the Danes activist approach towards the host will be an interesting aspect of this match. Tunisia itself is undergoing significant political changes, with a July referendum expanding Presidential powers.
In March, the European Parliament approved a resolution calling on Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to stop threatening journalists for criticizing him and his administration. Violence against journalists in Mexico, including seven deaths in mere months, resulted in the state to be viewed as the most dangerous for media. In response President López Obrador called the EU “sheep” and reaffirmed his ambiguous stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Although Mexico formally voted to condemn the invasion, Mexico has refused to sanction Russia – and President López Obrador’s comments tend to criticize NATO and European support for Ukraine. A geographical neighbour of Ukraine and Russian ally Belarus, Poland has vehemently criticized the invasion.
Despite a long-standing partnership, relations between France and Australia have been strained in the past years. In particular, the announcement that Australia had joined an alliance with the United States and United Kingdom referred to as AUKUS. The purpose of AUKUS was to build a strategic defence alliance – viewed as a challenge to Australia’s Pacific neighbours, China. Part of the agreement included the sharing of nuclear submarine technology. For France, they viewed this new alliance as a breach of trust with Australia terminating a submarine program contract, straining relations built over 50 years. The two nations effectively cut diplomatic ties, with French ambassadors recalled from Australia. In May, both nations agreed to rebuild their bilateral relationship “based on trust and respect”.
The World Cup kicks off Sunday with host Qatar playing Ecuador. Not only will this be the opening match of the tournament, but Qatar’s inaugural appearance in the World Cup finals – the first time a host country debut since Italy in 1934. The game features two nations that recently left OPEC – Qatar in 2019 and Ecuador in 2020 – while simultaneously strengthening economic ties with each other through recent bilateral trade agreements. In particular, Ecuador – the eighth largest economy in Latin America – plans to use Qatar’s new cutting-edge Hamad Port (opened in 2017), to increase distribution of food goods such as bananas, chocolate, coffee, and shrimp to Middle East and African markets. The Hamad Port is representative of Qatar’s strategy to diversify its economy in a post-hydrocarbon future and part of its National Vision 2030.
This match will not be a friendly affair is history between the two countries is anything to go by. For much of the early twentieth century Persia’s (Iran’s previous name) economic assets were controlled by Anglo-Russian pacts, and in particular Britain’s desire to benefit from Iran’s emerging oil reserves. The second, cold-war half of the century, saw America step-up its anti-communist agenda and replace the UK as the dominant foreign influence on Iran, heavily backing Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi (the Shah of Iran). Social injustice, the exiling of religious leaders and discontent with the Shah’s leadership led to an Islamic revolution in 1979. The overthrow of the Shah fueled political chaos that led to the six-day Iranian Embassy siege by Khuzestan separatists in 1980, In ended in a SAS rescue that was broadcast live on television. Re-established diplomatic relations in 1988 soon ended with the issuing of a Fatwa order to muslims across the World to kill Indian born British-American author Salman Rushdie, a decree that nearly came to pass recently in Chautauqua, New York . The US-EU initiated sanctions pact of 2011 imposed on Iran because of its nuclear programme has dominated UK-Iranian relations to this day, and though full diplomatic ties have been maintained since 2015, there are numerous ongoing tit-for-tat disputes, that have dominated relations between the two countries. The most notable and enduring was the refusal of the UK government to return a $500 million up-front arms deal payment made by the Shah of Iran in the 1970’s. The most notable pawn in this affair was Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian journalist, sentenced by the Iranian government for plotting against them and imprisoned for nearly six years until her release in March 2022. Iran’s football team arrive in Qatar against the backdrop of significant internal political unrest and international objections that have coalesced around the death in custody of 21 year old Mahsa Amini for for allegedly breaching the Islamic dress code for women. At the same time, the UK has imposed new sanctions on Iranian individuals and business responsible for supplying Russia with kamikaze drones used to attack Ukraine.
A match originally set to feature two superstars and former Liverpool teammates, Senegal forward Sadio Mane’s injury will deny viewers his anticipated duel with Netherland’s defender Virgil Van Dijk. How the African champions fare without Mane will be a major story at the 2022 World Cup, as the continent continues to search for success on the global football stage. Part of the challenge for nations such as Senegal is “athlete migration” or “athlete mining”. Every member of Senegal’s World Cup squad plays professionally for a European club. Although not formally part of the Netherland’s Development Cooperation Strategy which emphasizes migration support, football labour migration out of countries like Senegal to European clubs is riddled with exploitation and undermines domestic league development. For every success like Sadio Mane, who left Senegal for a French club at 19, thousands of African footballers migrate to Europe with promises and dreams that go unfulfilled.
No, not Wales, Alaska but Wales, UK – or better still Cymru!! This will be a true contrast to test Joseph Nye’s (1970) soft power thesis as nation that (arguably) has the most hard power takes on the nation that has none!!! It is truly a mismatch, perhaps not in terms of FIFA rankings (US -#16, Wales - #19) but in terms of population (US - 339 million, Wales - 3.14 million) – only Qatar with 2.7 million is smaller. Perhaps things will be evened up by the cheers of the over two million Americans who claim Welsh ancestry and constitute Wales’ largest diaspora – C’mon you Chicago Tafia and New York Welsh!!! Wales has given much to the US such as Presidents, coal miners, Calvinistic Methodists, Quakers and a lot of Pennsylvania – which was nearly named New Wales. More recently Wales has been willing to let the US have someone even closer to God, Gareth Bale, Wales’ best ever player, teaming up in LAFC to prepare for the World Cup and hone his golf game. So in return for all that god gave Welsh culture, through the Welsh Government International Offices (Atlanta, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Washington D.C.) can the Principality of Wales have something back in return – notably more Welsh export trade to the US, or if not, a 1-0 win?!! The USMNT have the second youngest team at the FIFA WC and are building towards WC 2026 when they co-host with Mexico and Canada and with looming problems of its own.