The 2022 FIFA World Cup is just three games away from its ending. The semifinal stage started with a bang. Argentina beat Croatia in a game that was never close and now awaits today’s winner. The final is scheduled on Sunday, Dec. 18 at 10 a.m. EST at Lusail Stadium in Doha, Qatar.
Here is a recap of the Argentina vs Croatia game, and a preview for the second semifinal, France vs Morocco.
Argentina: La Scaloneta endured another knockout match. In this semifinal, Argentina defeated Croatia 3-0. During the first half hour, both teams were careful, but then, in the 34th minute, Julián Álvarez was fouled by goalkeeper Dominik Livaković on a lone break and then awarded a penalty. Lionel Messi scored from the spot and became Argentina’s all-time World Cup top scorer with 11 goals, surpassing former player Gabriel Batistuta. Five minutes later, Argentina doubled its lead with a fantastic solo run by Julián Álvarez on the counterattack. Later in the 69th minute, Messi started a run from the midfield, reached the six-yard box and then assisted Julián “La araña” Álvarez in securing Argentina’s place in the final.
La Albiceleste is back in the FIFA World Cup final eight and a half years after its loss to Germany in Brazil. The team will play its sixth World Cup final in a rich fútbol history (1930, 1978, 1986, 1990, 2014, 2022). Argentina won its first in 1978 at home against the Netherlands with Mario Alberto Kempes,“El Matador,” as the top scorer. Then in 1986 they beat West Germany in Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca with Diego Armando Maradona as their captain and top scorer.
Last year Argentina ended its 28-year title drought by winning the Copa América against its bitter rival, Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã stadium. Regardless of that, the Argentines want to add a third star to their crest.
Messi will play his second FIFA World Cup final. Many would agree that he suffered the greatest defeat of his career at the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at the hands of the Germans. However, La Pulga has come a long way since then, and he knows it’s probably now or never. It’s retaliation time.
In an interview with TyC Sports’ journalist Gastón Edul after the Croatia game, Messi expressed the following:“We knew that we could do it… this group made it clear that it was going to fight to the fullest and give its very best in every game.”
Furthermore, Lionel Scaloni is looking forward to becoming the third coach to win the World Cup with Argentina. César Luis Menotti in 1978 and Carlos Salvador Bilardo in 1986 have been the only coaches to do so.
France: The French had to face probably the toughest opponent in the quarterfinals, England. Despite all the expectations for this game, France was able to avoid extra time and beat the English in a back-and-forth match thanks to goals by Aurélien Tchouaméni’s long shot in the 17th minute and Olivier Giroud’s header in the 77th. England’s Harry Kane sealed the deal by missing a penalty kick in the 84th minute.
The current World Cup title defenders are two wins away from becoming back-to-back champions. Didier Deschamps’ squad wants to join an exclusive list of back-to-back winners. The only nations to achieve this feat were Italy in 1934 and 1938, and Brazil in 1958 and 1962 respectively.
Les Bleus have to beat Morocco in the semis this afternoon at 2 p.m. On paper, the French look stronger than Morocco. The African side has shown no fear when it comes to knocking out European teams, but center-back Dayot Upamecano and midfielder Adrien Rabiot were both feeling unwell and could not complete yesterday’s training session. It is uncertain whether they will be fit to play today’s match.
Nonetheless, 10 out of 25 players already know what it’s like to be a FIFA World Cup champion in France’s camp. The French have a nice blend of youth and experience including players like Kylian Mbappé, Giroud, Antoine Griezmann, Tchouaméni, Raphael Varane and Hugo Lloris. Deschamps’ men possess outstanding individual quality and talent, speed and power in the final third, a resourceful midfield, and a solid backline. These are the keys to France being crowned for the third time.
Morocco: The greatest surprise of this World Cup has been the North African side. The Atlas Lions made history by becoming the first-ever team from the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to reach the FIFA World Cup semifinals. Cameroon, Senegal, and Ghana tried to accomplish that in previous editions but were unsuccessful.
Morocco’s road to the semifinals has been incredible. The squad finished first in its group over Croatia, Belgium, and CONCACAF’s best team in the qualifiers, Canada. In the round of 16, Morocco won in penalties against Spain following a scoreless draw after 120 minutes. Then, in the quarterfinals against Portugal, Morocco stunned the world when Youssef En-Nesyri headed the ball over the Portuguese goalkeeper, Diogo Costa, eliminating Cristiano Ronaldo’s team by 1-0.
Part of Morocco’s success has to do with the fact that 20 members of its roster play on some of Europe’s historic clubs: Hakim Ziyech for Chelsea, Achraf Hakimi for Paris Saint-Germain, Yassine Bounou and Youseff En-Nesyri for Sevilla FC, and their captain Romain Saïss for Beşiktaş in Turkey. The Atlas Lions number eight, Azzedine Ounahi who plays for Angers in France’s Ligue One, has been the revelation of this Moroccan side. The 22-year-old box-to-box midfielder has caught the attention of Spain’s giant FC Barcelona, which would like to sign him in January.
Morocco can’t rely solely on its footballers’ talent. It must remain compact defensively by closing the gaps behind and pressing rivals to lose possession, creating attacking options as a result. This is a likely way to put France in serious danger.