Thirty-two qualified teams took to the pitch at the start of the FIFA 2022 Qatar World Cup. So far, sixty-two matches have taken place in this tournament, and now we’re down to the remaining finalists.
We have seen brilliant quarter-final and semi-final games, and it’s been a stunning final week of football in Qatar.
Messi’s machine rolls on as Brazil crashes out.
The quarter-final stage got off to an explosive start as favourites Brazil were shocked by Croatia at Education City Stadium. Tipped by many to go all the way, the South Americans were stifled by the solid defensive organisation of Croatia for much of regulation time. After 90 minutes, it was goalless, which meant another 30 minutes were on the way.
Brazil did eventually get the initial breakthrough. Neymar burst through Croatia’s backline, and took the ball around goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic and scored what felt like a crucial goal. But there was a twist in the tale as Bruno Petkovic scored, making Croatia level with just three minutes of extra time to play and forcing both sides to a penalty shoot-out. Rodrygo and Maquinhos missed crucial penalties, which dumped the favourites out and put Croatia into the semi-finals for the second World Cup in a row.
Meanwhile, at Lusail Stadium, Argentina faced the Netherlands in a replay of the famous 1998 quarter-final. The Dutch won that year, but this year it was Argentina that pushed forward in another game that went to penalties. But that’s only half of the story.
The Argentines found themselves 2-0 up with ten minutes to go, but a double strike from substitute Wout Weghorst took the game to extra time in the final stages. Tempers flared as the game was extended by thirty minutes. There were arguments and plenty of rough tackles as emotions seemed to be at an all-time high, but Argentina held it together when it came to the shoot-out. Lautaro Martinez, who has been criticised for his lack of cutting edge in this tournament, scored the winning penalty to set up a semi-final with Croatia.
Morocco shock Portugal – France squeeze past England
Morocco’s fairytale continued as they caused another massive shock in the quarter-final at Al Thumama Stadium. Having stayed defensively resolute and knocking Spain out on penalties in the round of 16, the Moroccans had their sights set on becoming the first African team ever to make a semi-final when they came up against Portugal.
Morocco has been praised for their defensive record after only conceding one goal in the tournament, an own goal against Canada. At times though, they needed more pace going forward. However, this wasn’t the case on Saturday as Youssef El-Nesyri leapt higher than the rest to get on the end of Yahia Attiyat Allah’s cross. The Moroccan-heavy crowd went wild as their side managed to see the game out with yet another clean sheet and progress to the semi-finals.
Later that evening, the quarter-final was the most anticipated game at Al Bayt stadium, as France came out 2-1 winners against England. Aurelien Tchouameni’s brilliant first-half strike gave the champions the lead, only to be cancelled out by an early Harry Kane penalty after the break. But record goalscorer Olivier Giroud restored France’s lead with 12 minutes to play and ensured their assured passage through to the semi-finals again.
England team captain Harry Kane did have another chance to level things from the spot, but the pressure was too great this time, and he blasted his penalty over the bar. The England men’s side crashed out of the tournament, setting their sights on the next major trophy.
The semi-finals don’t disappoint
Argentina found their semi-final against Croatia a lot more straightforward, running out 3-0 winners back at Lusail stadium. Team captain Lionel Messi stole the show once again with a goal and a magical assist, setting himself up with a date with destiny on Sunday 18th of December, at the World Cup final.
It means that Sunday’s showpiece game will be between the legendary Lionel Messi and the world’s best young player, Kylian Mbappe. Will we see a symbolic changing of the guard with Mbappe beating Messi, or will experience trump youth for one last big win?