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  • Rowan Mackey

World Cup recap - Quarter Finals

Quarter Final results:

Croatia 1 - 1 Brazil

Netherlands 2 - 2 Argentina

Morocco 1 - 0 Portugal

England 1 - 2 France



CROATIAN players celebrate their win over Brazil in a penalty shootout


Pre-tournament favourite Brazil are out of the World Cup after a dramatic penalty shootout against a dour Croatian side. One of the best-ever World Cup goals, scored by Neymar in the 107th minute, wasn’t enough to see Brazil advance to what would have been a dream semi-final matchup for tournament organisers against Argentina.


Instead, Croatia will take their place after goalkeeper Dominik Livaković pulled off save after save to keep the reigning tournament finalists in the game.


Before Brazil’s shock defeat, it had looked like we would get the all-South American semi-final matchup that we had hoped for as Lionel Messi’s Argentina took care of an impressive Netherlands side that came back from 2 goals down after 83 minutes to take the game to extra time and penalties.


Elsewhere, 2022 will see an African team take the field in a World Cup Semi-Final for the first time ever after Morocco pulled off a stunning upset to beat Portugal and take their place in the final four of the competition.


They will now take on France, who were lucky to avoid extra time after England missed a late penalty that would have extended the game if it had gone in.


Here are five things we learned from the weekend’s matches, plus a look ahead to this week’s semi-finals of the 2022 World Cup.


Five Things We Learned

Penalties Are England’s Problem…Again



Penalty woes haunted England again

It was the same old story for England, who again left a major tournament after failing to capitalise on an opportunity presented to them at the penalty spot.


Whether it’s David Beckham’s missed penalty against Turkey in the Euro 2004 qualifiers, Gareth Southgate’s missed penalty against Germany at Euro 96, or one of the other many penalty disasters that have resulted in England losing seven out of their ten penalty shootouts in major tournaments, England have often been left to rue mistakes made at the penalty spot throughout their history at major tournaments.


In their game against France, it was not a penalty shootout that cost them their place in the competition, but a penalty missed in the 85th minute by England Captain Harry Kane that cost them a chance to extend the game into extra time.


It was Kane’s second penalty for the match, and he tucked away his first effort with aplomb against Tottenham teammate Hugo Lloris. But when England was awarded a second penalty with just 6 minutes remaining in the game, it was Kane who stepped up to take the shot again.


It’s a decision that England fans will rue for the foreseeable future as Kane’s second penalty sailed skyward, harmlessly over the French goal.


When Harry Kane lined up for the second penalty against his club teammate, one felt looking on that it gave a significant psychological advantage to the goalkeeper that he had already faced Kane from the spot once throughout the game.


It’s not the first time Harry Kane has taken a penalty twice in a game, having scored twice from the spot on the three previous occasions that he had taken two penalties for England, but the last time Kane had two penalties in a game, for Tottenham in June, he missed the second by skying the ball over the bar after having scored the first. It was an eerily similar result as the miss against France.


This recent form, paired with the fact that Kane was facing his club goalkeeper, would have given significant weight to the argument for someone else to take the penalty other than Kane.


It would have been a brave decision to send someone else up to the penalty spot and leave Kane on the edge of the box, especially if they missed the penalty. However, the significant psychological factors against Kane could have justified giving responsibility to another penalty taker.


It will be discussed for years at pubs across England, but it won’t change the fact that England now exits the World Cup at the quarter-final stage.


It remains to be seen whether Gareth Southgate will continue as England's manager, but England is likely to challenge for the World Cup in years to come. Their trio of young stars: Bellingham, Foden and Saka are likely to dominate many international teams for the next decade. But in terms of this World Cup, again, England leaves a major tournament having failed to fit their many talented players into a system that’s ultimately successful in winning a major trophy, and they have a missed opportunity at the penalty spot to thank for it.


No Love Will Be Lost Between the Netherlands and Argentina

When Argentina’s Lautaro Martinez slotted the final goal in the penalty shootout to book Argentina’s spot in the World Cup Semi-Final, photographer Evrim Aydin snapped the perfect shot that captured the drama.


As many of the Dutch players slumped to the ground or bowed their heads in despair, many of the Argentinian players were making faces and gesturing towards their vanquished opponents as they ran down towards goalscorer Martinez and hero goalkeeper Emilio Martinez to celebrate the win.


The photo perfectly told the story of a fiery clash between the teams that saw 18 yellow cards and one red, a record for a World Cup game.


At one stage in the second half, Argentine Leandro Paredes booted the ball towards the Dutch bench, which resulted in a scuffle between several players from both sides. Dutch defender Virgin Van Dijk ran from his position at centre back and cannoned into Paredes, sending him flying to the ground. Ironically, it was one of the few collisions that didn’t receive a yellow card from the referee, despite looking like it was one of the most flagrant.


When Argentina’s win was confirmed, goalkeeper Emilio Martinez, the hero for his side after he saved the first two penalties, ran over to Luis Van Gaal and the Dutch coaching staff and had to be held back as he could be seen remonstrating and gesturing angrily towards them.


In his press conference after the game, Martinez doubled down on his disdain for Van Gaal and his colleagues.


“I heard Van Gaal say ‘we’ve got an advantage in penalties, if we go to penalties, we win’ – I think he needs to keep his mouth shut.”


No love will be lost between Argentina and the Netherlands, two countries with a storied history in World Cup tournaments.


On this occasion, as with their previous meeting in 2014, it ended with Argentina progressing on penalties in a hard-fought game. If these teams play again in the future, there may not be as many as 19 cards given out, but it will take some time for the animosity developed between these teams to simmer down.


Brazil Are Left To Rue A Golden Opportunity Missed



Neymar's amazing goal was not enough to get Brazil across the line

One of the best-ever goals scored in a World Cup game wasn’t enough to lift Brazil over the line against a gallant Croatian team.


Brazilian superstar Neymar played two separate one-twos on his way through a sea of Croatian legs and took the ball around the keeper to smash the ball into the roof of the Croatian net and put his side ahead in the 106th minute.


The lead was short-lived, however, as Brazil overcommitted their resources to an attack and exposed itself to the counter-attack deep into extra time. It left space that Croatian attacker Mislav Orsic was able to exploit as he dribbled the ball downfield towards the goal.


Orsic then crossed the ball to Bruno Petkovic, who sidefooted the equaliser home and sent the Croatian fans into raptures.


The equaliser set up a penalty shootout, which had seemed to be what Croatia hoped would happen throughout the game as they wasted more time and played a more defensive style than Brazil.


Croatia is now four wins from four penalty shootouts in World Cup history, and such strength in this facet of their game has allowed them to reach their second successive World Cup Semi-Final.


Brazil will be left to pick up the pieces of another World Cup failure. Brazilian manager Tite effectively resigned from his post in the post-match press conference and has come under extensive criticism for his team selection and choice of substitutes against Croatia.


Despite Brazil having the most chances in the game, Croatia’s midfield controlled the ball for large portions and robbed the Brazilians of possession. This allowed them to stay in touch throughout the game, putting pressure on the Brazilian forwards to do more with each opportunity.


Add to the fact that Croatian goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic made 11 saves in the 120 minutes before the penalty shootout, and you felt that the weight of expectation was growing with each Brazilian foray forward.


As someone who follows Newcastle United in the English Premier League, it felt as though the style of game was tailor-made for Bruno Fernandes, who has the ability to hold up the ball in midfield more than the preferred Lucas Paqueta, who plays on the wing for club side West Ham. Bruno can still contribute to the fast, dynamic attacking style that Brazilian manager Tite wanted to implement, but is also a more natural midfielder who plays his club football in that position.


In the end, Brazil had 21 shots to Croatia’s 9, but Croatia won the majority of possession in the game.


Only Tite will know whether it was poor planning on his behalf or poor execution from the Brazilian players that cost them the game against Croatia, but it did seem from the outside that there was an air of arrogance in the way that Tite set up the Brazilian team.


It was as if he didn’t acknowledge Croatia’s greatest strengths and instead played an overly attacking team of players that he thought would win the game by several goals.


It will be a tough pill to swallow for Brazil after this World Cup was arguably their best chance to win the tournament since their most recent triumph in 2002. Their best player, Neymar, will be 34 at the next World Cup and likely to be past his physical prime. Plus, teams like England, Germany, Spain, and Italy are all likely to rebound bigger and better by the time the tournament rolls around next time.


Brazil is always likely to be one of the contenders again for the tournament in four years' time, but before then, they will want to learn to play a bit more of a balanced game style.


When Brazil is up and about in full flight, they are one of the best teams in the world to watch, but they can’t just rely on dazzling footwork and miraculous goals to win a World Cup. As Croatia has shown in Qatar, you will be coming up against teams with a good midfield and well-organised defence in a World Cup. When this is the case, Brazil has struggled in recent years to win, even when they seemingly should have blown other teams away based on their superior talent and attacking ability. It’s an issue their next manager will need to rectify if they’re to have any chance of winning the next World Cup in 2026.


There Was No Fairytale Ending For Cristiano Ronaldo



Ronaldo's World Cup ended in disappointing fashion - on and off the pitch

When Portugal scored six brilliant goals against Switzerland to book their place in the World Cup Quarter-Final, for a brief second, it looked like we might get a dream World Cup Final matchup between the two champions, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.


But any hopes of a fairytale finish in a final between the two superstars faded as the final whistle blew between Portugal and Morocco.


Cristiano Ronaldo left the pitch in tears in what is most likely to be his final World Cup appearance and potentially the last time he takes the field for Portugal in any capacity.


Ronaldo has been Portugal’s best-ever player, which is no mean feat in a country that has produced some of the game's greats.


In a country that has produced such highly-regarded players as Luis Figo, Eusabio and Rui Costa, Ronaldo’s 118 international goals are nearly triple the next best of Pauleta, who netted a respectable 47 goals for his country.


Ronaldo would have been hoping he could have added a World Cup trophy to his illustrious collection, which also includes a European Cup trophy that was won with Portugal in 2016.


It is likely to be the only blemish (if you can call it that) on Ronaldo’s remarkable career, which boasts a swathe of individual and collective achievements.


Morocco Is The Wholesome Story This World Cup Needs

In a World Cup that has been overshadowed by allegations of human rights abuse and other serious issues, it’s been hard at times to focus on the football.


In terms of the football itself, it’s been one of the best World Cups with the plethora of upset wins and fairytale stories we’ve seen. But it’s been hard to uncouple that with some of the very serious allegations that have gone on in the background.


Without wanting to trivialise or ignore those serious allegations, it is nice to have a story like Morocco in this World Cup that adds complexity to the situation as it shows that the entire tournament is more than just a money-making exercise.


Although the financial gain is clearly a huge incentive to stage this World Cup, on another level, the reason it goes ahead is to give us stories like that of the Moroccan team, who will become the first African nation to take the field in a World Cup Semi-Final when they take on reigning the World Champions, France, on Thursday.


The scenes of jubilation, both from inside the stadium after the game, and throughout Morocco, must have warmed the heart of all that bore witness to them as players danced with family members and hoisted heroic goalkeeper Bono into the air in celebration.


The Moroccan team is one of the most culturally diverse at this World Cup. 14 out of their 26 players were born outside of Morocco but instead chose to represent a nation that many felt a strong connection to.


Take, for example, Achraf Hakimi, who scored the winning penalty for Morocco against Spain. He grew up in Madrid and was trained at the Real Madrid academy, but rejected the advances of the Spanish National Team and chose to represent Morocco.


He said of his choice to reject Spain when he was younger, “yes, there were moments in youth. There were contacts. I went to the Spanish national team also to try.


"It was not for anything in particular, but for what I felt because it was not what I had at home, which is the Arab culture, being Moroccan. I wanted to be here."


It was heartwarming to see Hakimi celebrate with his mother in the stands, or fellow foreign-born Moroccan Sofiane Boufal, who took his mother onto the field and danced with her after the game.


https://twitter.com/MrAhmednurAli/status/1601635343652249600?s=20&t=SvCFoyZO2opBxj2Cvm3DHA


This is all before properly acknowledging that an African team has made it into the semi-final of a World Cup. Beyond simply giving joy to the people in Morocco, the win against Portugal represented something more for wider Africa too.


Whether it be Senegal’s defeat of France in 2002 or Cameroon’s historic win against Colombia in 1990 that saw them become the first African team to play in a World Cup Quarter Final, there have been some famous matching involving African teams at the World Cup. But African teams have never quite taken things to the next level at the World Cup and have never been given a real chance to win the tournament.


This year, for example, Morocco started the tournament as 400/1 outsiders to win the competition. They are now paying just 11/1. It shows that a team from Africa can match it with the European powerhouses that have dominated throughout the tournament’s history.


This year, African teams took a record 24 points from the Group Stage, and they will now see a semi-finalist at the World Cup for the first time ever. Although Morocco is the team that’s achieved the result at this tournament, other teams from throughout Africa will take confidence that an African team has gone as far as it has on this occasion.


Since 1990, Morocco has only once finished better than in the quarter-final at the African Cup of Nations. All the teams that play Morocco regularly will think they also have what it takes to extend their appearance at the tournament past the group and early knockout stages.


Not to mention that people from Africa share a bond that people from other continents don’t seem to have with each other. When you get off the plane in a country like Tanzania, people say, “welcome to Africa,” they don’t refer to the individual country you’re in.


In my experience, people more explicitly identify as being African than they do from other continents, and it’s wonderful to see. This may form part of the reason for 14 of Morocco’s players choosing to play for the African nation instead of the country of their birth.


Now, Africa can unite and celebrate the achievements of one team whose victory will represent so much more to others who may not have had a previous affiliation with Morocco.


We will see more African teams in the next World Cup, as the number of teams in total increases to 48. Hopefully, this Moroccan team can inspire some of them to go on their own successful World Cup run, and this won’t be the last time we see an African team in the semi-final of a World Cup in the near future.


The Semi-Finals

Wednesday 6am AEDT - ARGENTINA v CROATIA

Argentina’s quarter-final win showed the gulf in class between their best football and their worst football when they created and then gave up a two-goal lead against the Netherlands.


Their opponent for the semi-final, Croatia, will be hoping to exploit this inconsistency when they take the field on Wednesday.


Argentina’s champion playmaker, Lionel Messi, sits just one goal behind current tournament top scorer Kylian Mbappe with four goals, and the Argentinians have relied on the little master to be their primary avenue to goal throughout this tournament.


The assist he provided for the first goal in Argentina’s semi-final win was illustrative of the rest of their tournament so far.


After turning his defender in the centre of the pitch, Messi streamed down on goal and surgically sliced the Dutch defence with a pinpoint pass that played teammate Nahuel Molina in on goal.


Croatia may not have many answers for Messi’s brilliance, but they will feel that they can go head to head with the Argentinians if they can play the game on their terms like they did in their quarter-final win against Portugal.


The Croatians will be aware that they can’t compete with Messi in a free-flowing game weighted towards attack. However, Croatia’s defence, led by 20-year-old brick wall Joško Gvardiol, has proved throughout this tournament that they can stand up to some of the best forwards in world football.


If the Croatians can control the game, as they did against Portugal, and limit the opportunities Messi has to run at the defenders with space around him, then they will feel that they can take the game to extra time and penalties where they can be confident that they will at least have a 50/50 chance at winning.


This style has served Croatia immensely well in the previous two World Cups, having made a final and at least a semi-final in the last two tournaments.


Although Gvardiol and his central defensive partner Dejan Lovren have both been relatively impenetrable throughout this World Cup, it will arguably be their biggest challenge so far to try and stop Messi, who has nearly been the player of the tournament so far and is likely to bring a little bit more magic to a semi-final that has so much riding on it for him on a personal level.


After Argentina defeated the Netherlands in a tense penalty shootout, Messi was the first to get to goalkeeper Emilio Martinez and embrace him for making the saves to send them through to the semi.


You can tell that it’s all-or-nothing now for Messi, who will feel that he is so close to reaching the final rung on the ladder that has been one of the most storied careers in professional sport.


Thursday 6am AEDT - FRANCE v MOROCCO

Reigning World Cup winners, France is looking more and more likely to become the first team in 60 years to win back-to-back World Cups as they progress to a second straight World Cup Semi-Final.


Standing in their way will be a Moroccan team that has arguably been the story of the World Cup so far, and the Moroccans will have the support of the entire African content after they became the first-ever African team to qualify for a semi-final at a World Cup.


Although many people will take one look at this game and think France will easily run away with a victory to book their place in the final, when we delve a little deeper, it seems that it may not be so straightforward.


Although France has been the best-performed team remaining at this year’s World Cup, they have conceded the first goal in four of their five games.


They will not want to repeat this pattern against Morocco, as the Moroccan defence has only conceded a single goal for the whole tournament so far.


If France does concede the first goal of the game, they will likely find it a lot tougher to get through a Moroccan defence that has shown that it can break down some of the best-attacking systems in the world.


Portugal, who were coming off a thumping 6 - 1 win against Switzerland, could not score even a single goal against Morocco. This is despite having an attack that includes some of the best players in the world and a bench that includes Cristiano Ronaldo, who many see as one of the best-ever players to play the game.


France will not want to give the Moroccans a chance to get on top in the game and sit back in a more defensive position because so many teams have failed to get through that defence during this World Cup.


If France can get ahead early in the game, there is a chance that they will open Morocco up and win by several goals as the Moroccans commit more resources in attack trying to win the game.

If there is a Moroccan miracle and the African team can score the first goal, though, the French will throw everything they have at the Moroccans to try to get the decisive goal, and that could leave them open to a second or even a third. What’s certain is that the Moroccans will feel that they are well set up and looking forward to having the opportunity to show Africa and the rest of the world that they belong on the biggest stage, in a World Cup Final.


TIPS:

ARGENTINA 1, CROATIA 0

FRANCE 3, MOROCCO 1



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