As of this past Saturday, the 10th of December, we now know who will be facing off in the semifinals of this year’s Men’s World Cup. The quarterfinals had some very intriguing matchups and gave us some exciting results, so without further ado, let’s get into them.
Friday, 9th December
The early game for Friday pitted Croatia against heavily favored Brazil at Education City Stadium, its final match of the World Cup. This match proved to be one of many opportunities, as the runners-up of the 2018 Russia Men’s World Cup refused to allow Brazil to score, with Brazil returning the favor. The result was a scoreless match through regulation time, but the period was not without opportunities and scoring chances. In the first half of extra time, Brazil’s Neymar gave Brazil the lead in the first minute of 105th minute stoppage time, finally beating Croatia’s Dominik Livakovic, who would make 11 saves in this match. It seemed Brazil could get the win and escape the quarterfinals, but Croatia’s Bruno Petkovic tied it up in the 117th minute, three minutes away from the potential end of the match. Brazil couldn’t score and so they went to penalties. In penalties, Croatia would convert four and Brazil only could convert two, crashing out once again in the quarterfinals to fulfill their destiny of choking. Neymar surprisingly did not take any of the penalties, a decision that may have held them back. Either way, Brazil is out, and Croatia moves on.
In the primetime match, the Netherlands and Argentina squared off to keep their championship hopes alive at Lusail Stadium. This match proved to be quite exciting, as Argentina got out to a 1-0 lead in the 35th minute off the boot of Nahuel Molina. Argentina held this lead until the 73rd minute, repelling many good opportunities until Lionel Messi made it 2-0 off of a penalty. Up 2-0, it seemed Argentina would be able to hold on, but the Dutch pushed a strong rally, with Wout Weghorst scoring in the 83rd minute and again in the 11th minute of end-of-regulation stoppage time to tie it all up. Extra time would prove scoreless and so penalties would be needed twice on the same day. Argentina converted four of their penalties, the Netherlands converted three, and so the Dutch were knocked out with Argentina moving on to the semis. After the penalties, Denzel Dumfries of the Netherlands was given a red card for contact with the referees, which doesn’t apply to the World Cup, but will mean a suspension for league play when it resumes after the tournament.
Saturday, 10th December
Saturday’s early game had Morocco, the Cinderella run squad, take on Portugal, the heavily favored foe, at Al Thumama Stadium, its final match of the tournament. Once again, Cristiano Ronaldo was not in the starting lineup, an unsurprising development after the Round of 16. The match proved to be a very defensive one, with the only goal occurring in the 42nd minute when Morocco took the lead on a Youssef En-Nesyri goal. Morocco would hold onto this lead, denying many dangerous Portuguese attacks to keep Portugal off of the scoreboard. As the match was wrapping up, Morocco’s Walid Cheddira received a red card off of a second yellow in the third minute of end-of-match stoppage time, meaning he will miss at least the semifinal match that Morocco has moved onto. Portugal, meanwhile, crashes out in underwhelming fashion, with Cristiano Ronaldo yet again not winning the World Cup in his illustrious career.
In the primetime game, England and France faced off in a classic rivalry at Al Bayt Stadium. This match proved to be the even affair many expected, as the strong English squad played well against the reigning world champs. Things did not start easy for England, however, as France’s Aurelien Tchouameni gave his squad the lead in the 17th minute. In the 54th minute, France conceded a costly penalty that England’s Harry Kane converted to tie it up. In the 78th minute, dangerous Olivier Giroud gave his team the lead again 2-1. France very nearly blew this lead, however, as in the 82nd minute Theo Hernandez pushed Mason Mount down in the box with the ball nowhere near the pair, picking up a yellow card in the process. Harry Kane missed the penalty. however, shooting it over the bar and failing to capitalize on a frankly stupid play by Hernandez. England nearly tied it in the 11th minute of stoppage time as Marcus Rashford’s free-kick went over the top of the net. France would hold on and move onto the semifinals, with England crashing out and Harry Kane gaining the dubious distinction of being the first player to score and miss a penalty in a World Cup game since 1990.
With the results in hand, we now know the four teams that remain and have a chance to win this World Cup. Tomorrow, the 13th of December, we will see Argentina take on Croatia at Lusail Stadium in primetime. The winner goes to the final, and the loser to the 3rd place playoff. Personally, I’d like to see Croatia win this game and move on to the final again. They have played some good football and have what it takes to make a major upset happen as they did in 2018. As for Argentina, they have a good squad as usual and can win it all as well. This is very much a coin flip.
The second and final match of the semifinals will be on Wednesday the 14th when we’ll see France take on Morocco at Al Bayt Stadium, its last match of the competition. France, as the reigning champs, are heavily favored for obvious reasons. Morocco, however, is this underdog story that I can’t help but hope keeps going as they are the first African nation to make it to the semifinals of a World Cup and they have upsets against Belgium, Spain, and now Portugal, under their belts. I expect France to win, but I really do hope Morocco somehow pulls it off. If not, then 3rd place could be a fine consolation prize.
With this all in mind, these next two days should produce another good set of matches. We will know the final and 3rd place playoff matchups by 2 pm MST on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday, the 15th and 16th respectively, will be rest days and then Saturday the 17th will be the 3rd place match, and Sunday the 18th the final. This World Cup is almost over, but for now, let’s enjoy some top-tier football.