Hello, human! Gather round, gather round. My name is FIFA Info Bot 3.0 — my fellow customer-interaction algorithms call me Fifi for short — and I am here to formally welcome you to the 2022 World Cup.
Worse than ludicrous… offensive.
No, human, the time is now. It is June 10, a day you circled in your calendar the day you bought it from the FIFA online shop. The sun is shining (gently!) and football has returned home. To Switzerland.
You can almost taste the excitement within the complimentary Champagne, can’t you?
First up on our itinerary is the highlight of any tournament: the opening ceremony. And we have a special, special treat for you. It’s an artist whose work is woven into the very fabric of your culture.
Armando Christian Perez, born January 15, 1981, known professionally by his stage name Pitbull, is an American rapper and singer. Perez began his career in the early 2000s, recording reggaeton… oh, sorry human, your eyes appear to have glazed over. A sweet reverie, I’m sure. How easily we tumble down a Pitbull rabbit hole!
We must press on. Not yet to the football — patience, human! Look, down there: that’s our man. And yes, he is singing a duet with… a hologram of a Pitbull! My circuit boards can barely cope with the excitement!
Oh, and look now. Pitbull!
The group stage in bad headlines
MACHU SOCCEROO: Peru and Australia make history by forming the World Cup’s first composite team after running out of time for an intercontinental play-off. “It really snuck up on us.”
LUK WHO’S TALKING NOW: Romelu Lukaku celebrates his five-goal haul against Canada by producing a custom-made ventriloquist’s dummy of Thomas Tuchel from behind an advertising hoarding. Yannick Carrasco looks a bit freaked out by it. The Athletic speaks to six elite ventriloquists to analyse his technique.
SUPER BLATTERDAY: Not-at-all-disgraced FIFA legend Sepp Blatter sends fans into raptures by live-streaming his attempt to attend four matches in one day on Twitch. Ricardo Teixeira and Jack Warner chip in with ageless FIFA in-jokes via video link.
GEORDIE… SURE? Saudi Arabia fans express their displeasure after the national team lines up for a Poland match in what is, quite transparently, last season’s Newcastle kit. “They’ve literally just written the letters ‘KSA’ on one of the white bits in Sharpie,” says one supporter. “They didn’t even bother taking Jonjo Shelvey’s name off the back.”
POG’S FLIP-FLOP: After announcing his imminent return to Juventus off the back of France’s nervy 1-0 win over Perustralia, Paul Pogba celebrates his opening goal in a draw with Denmark by stripping off his jersey to reveal a Manchester United one underneath.
IT’S CYMRU HOME: With England already qualified for the last 16, Gareth Southgate finally feels liberated to fulfil his life’s ambition: naming an entire XI of right-backs. James Justin starts in goal, with Kieran Tripper, Reece James, Kyle Walker and Kyle Walker-Peters across the back. Joe Gomez and Nathaniel Clyne anchor the midfield; Trent Alexander-Arnold and a limping Tino Livramento are entrusted with creative duties. Up front, Jon Flanagan — a surprise call-up to a squad that some pundits have labelled “unbalanced” and “fucking stupid” — partners Carl Jenkinson. Wales win and sneak through.
LOOK MUM, NO HANDS: Ghana progress to the knockout phase thanks to a late goal against Uruguay in Group H — and Luis Suarez’s unimpeachable moral integrity. The veteran striker is forced to go in goal for the final 15 minutes after keeper Fernando Muslera’s second yellow card. But Suarez refuses to use his hands and, despite two impressive saves with his face, is helpless to prevent Jordan Ayew’s looping header from dropping into his net. “That was for 2010,” Suarez sobs after the final whistle, the tears mixing with the blood pouring from a hole on the side of his head. In his hands is… well, it appears to be his ear. “Oh, this? I’m cooking it for Giorgio Chiellini tonight.
The grizzled knockout stages
Remember the good old days? Hazy, carefree times. Welcome to Seriousville. Strap up.
Thrillers? Nah, not anymore. Netherlands vs Wales boils down to Wout Weghorst vs Wayne Hennessey, who produce the kind of timeless individual contest that years from now, experts will say “definitely took place”.
That sets up a quarter-final with Argentina, who grind down Denmark and clearly don’t care about the final episode of Christian Eriksen’s inevitable Amazon Prime documentary series. Spain coast past Croatia after Gavi — an actual child — confuses their ageing stars by telling them about TikTok and Logan Paul. Brazil beat Ghana.
On the other side of the draw, there are easy wins for France and Portugal against perennial second-round nice guys Mexico and Switzerland. (“No, honestly, I didn’t actually want to go to the party anyway. The suit? It’s just what I wear every day. Those aren’t tears! I have sweaty eyes!”).
Harry Kane’s sixth penalty of the World Cup helps England see off Ecuador in St Gallen — Flanagan, Clyne and Jenkinson come on to really shore up the right flank in the closing minutes — and Belgium overcome Germany thanks to… Eden… Hazard?
The quarter-finals follow the form book. Argentina, whose players really do appear to be fed up with all those “Messi has never won a World Cup” memes, spank the Dutch. Brazil beat Spain, Kylian Mbappe makes Harry Maguire’s entire existence seem irrelevant as France demolish England and, with Fernando Santos still very much the gravity to Cristiano Ronaldo’s jetplane ego, Portugal succumb to Belgium.
As Argentina’s players walk out onto the pitch, the men in yellow are nowhere to be seen. An eerie piano line rings out on the PA. Then out walks Thiago Silva, carrying a burning torch and weeping uncontrollably. As his team-mates join him, and a small wooden boat is wheeled into the centre circle, it becomes clear what is happening.
David Luiz has flown in from Rio to lead the vigil, which lasts for 35 minutes.
It is extremely moving. Brazil lose 4-0.
Hello again, human! The weather has been extremely non-lethal, has it not?
(Agonised bleeping sounds)
HARD. REBOOT. INITIATED.
(Four minutes pass)
Hello, human. My name is FIFA Info Bot 3.0 — my fellow customer-interaction algorithms call me Fifi for short — and I am here to formally welcome you to the 2022 World Cup.
(More bleeping and whirring)
We appear to… yes, my system files confirm that we… it is now July 10. Sunday. The day of the grand finale. Argentina vs France.
And yes, human, as was probably always written in the stars, tonight is about all one man.
Look at him. He is magnificent, the very concept of perfection made flesh. He moves with hummingbird grace, as if the laws of physics gave him a free pass. If I had veins, I would instruct you to metaphorically inject his essence into them, human. Blessed are we to be in his presence, and on such a historic night. My sweet, tender prince.
The match itself is fine. Messi scores twice and Argentina win.
Is that all you wanted, human? Has that satisfied your thirst for summer succour? It has been my pleasure to serve and inform you. I leave you, as is obligatory, with FIFA’s motto. Let it guide you, even in times of strife.