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World Cup semifinals: What you need to know

World Cup semi final news

Four teams remain in the fight for football’s biggest prize.

After three weeks of compelling action, the 2022 FIFA World Cup is rapidly heading towards its conclusion.

Tuesday and Wednesday will see the semifinals, before the final on Sunday at the Lusail Stadium crowns the winners of football’s most prestigious competition.

Here, we give you the lowdown on the remaining contenders in Qatar.

Who’s playing in the semifinals, when, and where?

The first semifinal features Argentina and Croatia, and takes place on Tuesday, December 13, at 22:00 local time at the Lusail Stadium.

With a listed capacity of almost 90,000, the venue is the largest at the World Cup and is located in Lusail City, around 20km to the north of central Doha.

Wednesday, December 14, sees the second semifinal between France and Morocco.
It is also set for 22:00 local time at the Al Bayt Stadium – located in Al Khor, around 35km to the north of Doha. Qatari organizers list the capacity as almost 70,000.

How have the teams reached this point?

For Argentina, the 2022 World Cup has been a rollercoaster ride. It began with the shock 2-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia – one of the biggest upsets in the history of the tournament.

Lionel Messi then inspired a 2-0 victory over Mexico to get the team back on track. Another 2-0 win followed against Poland to ensure Lionel Scaloni’s men finished top of Group C.

Then came a 2-1 last-16 win against Australia, which concluded far more nervously than many expected.

That paved the way for a pulsating – and frequently fiery – quarterfinal with the Netherlands. Argentina eventually prevailed on penalties after throwing away a 2-0 lead when the Dutch launched a staggering late comeback.

Semifinal opponents Croatia also booked their spot in the last four with a dramatic shootout win over Brazil. Zlatko Dalic’s team have established themselves as spot-kick specialists, also seeing off Japan on penalties in their last-16 meeting.

Prior to that, Croatia finished second in Group F behind tournament sensations Morocco. The Croatians drew their opening game 0-0 with the North Africans, before beating Canada 4-1 and then playing out a goalless draw with Belgium.

Wednesday’s semifinalists France overcame England in their quarterfinal clash on Saturday night, winning 2-1 after Harry Kane spurned a late chance from the penalty spot. Before that, Les Bleus eased past Poland 3-1 in the last 16.

France reached the knockout stages after topping Group D, despite a shock 1-0 defeat to Tunisia in the last round of games. Prior to that, they battered Australia 4-1 and edged out Denmark 2-1.

Their opponents Morocco are the surprise package of the tournament. The Atlas Lions are the first African team ever to reach this stage of the World Cup, and have done so by beating Portugal 1-0 in their quarterfinal showdown.

At the last-16 stage, Morocco sent another Iberian team home with a penalty shootout win against Spain after the scores had finished 0-0.

In the group stage, Morocco topped Group F thanks to a draw with Croatia, a stunning 2-0 win over Belgium, and a 2-1 victory over Canada.

Argentina – Messi’s fairy-tale ending?

The narrative surrounding Argentina and this World Cup has been all about Messi’s ‘Last Dance’.

The 35-year-old has already said this will be his last appearance at the tournament, meaning his last chance to emulate the late, great Diego Maradona by leading his nation to glory.

Argentina won the second of their two World Cup titles as Maradona starred in Mexico in 1986.

Unsurprisingly, talisman Messi has been integral to Argentina’s run to the semifinals in Qatar, playing a landmark 1,000th professional game along the way.

The Argentine captain produced a sensational goal against Mexico and a superb strike against Australia. His assist for Nahuel Molina against the Netherlands was among the moments of the tournament.

There is the blip of the missed penalty against Poland, but the star number 10 did score from the spot against the Saudis and the Dutch.

Against the Netherlands, Messi goaded the Dutch bench and manager Louis van Gaal in a lesser-seen confrontational side to his character.

After breaking his big tournament hoodoo with victory in the Copa America in 2021, the World Cup remains the last big prize to elude Messi in his career.

Qatar is his fifth appearance at a World Cup finals, and he has 10 goals to his name in 24 matches in total across those tournaments.

The closest Messi has come to tasting World Cup glory was the 2014 final defeat against Germany – is he now poised to rectify that and write a fairy-tale ending in Qatar?

Croatia – continuing to defy the odds

For a nation with a population of less than four million people, Croatia continue to punch above their weight when it comes to international football.

Beaten finalists in Russia in 2018, Croatia are one step away from another appearance in football’s biggest game.

Their progress in Qatar has mostly been steady if unspectacular – and based on more spot-kick prowess.

Goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic saved a remarkable three penalties against Japan before denying Rodrygo in the shootout against Brazil. After penalty wins against Denmark and Russia at the World Cup four years ago, the Croatians will always back themselves from the spot.

Captain Luka Modric, 37, continues to pull the strings in midfield, while fellow veteran Ivan Perisic now has goals across three World Cup tournaments, having scored the equalizer against Japan.

Among the next generation of talent, 20-year-old Josko Gvardiol has been one of the best defenders on show in Qatar and seems destined for big things.
In the dugout, Croatian head coach Dalic, 56, continues to prove himself to be a shrewd operator when it comes to managing the big occasion.

France – defending champions make light of absences

Under Didier Deschamps, France are aiming to follow their success in Russia four years ago by becoming the first team since Brazil in 1962 to retain the World Cup title.

They are doing so despite the injury absences of big names such as midfield duo Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, as well as striker Karim Benzema – the current Ballon d’Or holder.

Although subdued against England, star forward Kylian Mbappe has shown flashes of his brilliance and leads the Golden Boot race on five strikes.

Fellow frontman Olivier Giroud has made history in Qatar by overtaking Thierry Henry as his nation’s all-time top scorer, and struck his 53rd goal in international football by heading in what turned out to be the winner against England.

The evergreen Giroud, 36, has four goals to his name in Qatar, and appears essential to France’s chances of making it three World Cup triumphs in their history.

Elsewhere, playmaker Antoine Griezmann has put a difficult spell at club level behind him with some sparkling performances – including two assists against England.

Griezmann will also likely be crucial to France’s hopes of unlocking an obdurate Moroccan defense.

Morocco – African history-makers

Morocco are undeniably the sensations of this World Cup. The first ever African team to reach this stage of the tournament, they are roared on by fervent support in Qatar and far beyond – from the streets of Casablanca and Rabat, to the diaspora across Europe.

Their success is based upon the foundation of the meanest defense at the tournament, with just a solitary goal conceded in Qatar – and even that came via an own goal when Nayef Aguerd turned into his own net against Canada.

Yassine Bounou – better known as Bono – has been a revelation in goal, saving two penalties in the shootout win against Spain.

Big names Achraf Hakimi of Paris Saint-Germain and Hakim Ziyech of Chelsea have shone, but the collective spirit of the team has been indomitable.

That has been displayed during their celebrations – from collective prayers on the pitch, to kisses with family members in the crowd.

All the more remarkable is that head coach Walid Regragui, a former player, was only appointed at the end of August.

The 47-year-old has worked wonders in transforming the team into unlikely World Cup contenders – describing them as the ‘Rocky’ of the competition in a nod to the famous boxer of cinema folklore.

Regragui will, however, be sweating on the fitness of captain Romain Saiss for game against France, after the central defender was stretchered off in the 57th minute of the game with Portugal.

Saiss, 32, has vowed to do “everything possible” to try to make the game. Striker Walid Cheddira – deployed as a substitute – will definitely miss out through suspension after the 24-year-old was red-carded in stoppage time against the Portuguese.

Head-to-head records

Argentina and Croatia have met at two previous editions of the World Cup – in 1998 and 2018 – and both those matches came in the group stages.

In Russia four years ago, it was the Croatians who enjoyed a 3-0 hammering of the South Americans in Nizhny Novgorod, thanks to goals from Modric, Ante Rebic and Ivan Rakitic.

At France 98, Argentina edged a tight contest 1-0.

Outside of those encounters, the pair played a 2014 friendly in London which La Albiceleste won 2-1 – with Messi on the scoresheet through a penalty.

In a 2006 friendly in Basel, Switzerland, Messi was also on target but it was Croatia who won 3-2.

A first-ever meeting in a 1994 friendly in Zagreb ended goalless.

Meanwhile, France and Morocco will be facing each other for the 12th time when they play at the Al Bayt Stadium on Wednesday.

Morocco have won just one of those matches – their first-ever contest in an unofficial game way back in 1963.

Since then, France have won seven times, with three games ending in a draw – the last of those being a 2007 friendly.

The clash in Qatar will be the first time the teams have ever met at a major tournament, as Morocco seek to spring another historic shock.

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Source:RT News

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