And then there were four. After four pulsating quarter-final matches, we are now left with four teams with World Cup aspirations. For some like France and Argentina, this was within the realm of expectation, for Croatia it’s a welcomed return and for Morocco…it’s history on a continental scale. This World Cup has already been defined by shocks and unpredictability. And it wouldn’t be crazy to say that at this point, any of these teams could reach the final, here are some ways in which they might.
Morocco is playing with house money. Their 1-0 win over Portugal was enough to break the glass ceiling for Africa, as for the first time in four attempts an Africa team won a World Cup quarterfinal. Not only that, but they also became the first Arab nation to reach a World Cup semi-final. No matter what happens, this squad has already reached legendary status.
But they’re not done yet, they play France in the semi-final, and their path to victory is clear – more of the same. Morocco has maintained a fantastic defensive shape, the team has conceded just one goal in five games and has yet to concede in the knockout stage. It’s an obvious statement, but you can’t lose (out with pens) if you don’t concede. Contain Kylian Mbappé and Antoine Griezmann and cut the supply to Olivier Giroud, it’s easier said than done – but it will go a long way to slowing down France
But it is vital that Morocco score. Their team has been pushed to their limits with injuries, and at times has been extremely pinned back against both Portugal and Spain. Should this game go to extra time, Morocco will be pushed to a point that I fear they would finally crack. France has conceded in every game they’ve played so far, so there is a good chance Morocco will get the goal within ninety minutes that they will need. An entire continent and then some will be behind them, including what is expected a massively pro-Moroccan crowd on the day, if this team once again rises to the occasion, do not be surprised.
England is a really good team. Where they were on the other side of the draw, perhaps they would’ve played France in the final. But they didn’t, France played England – probably the second-best team in Europe right now and came out on top. Now, with Brazil out France appear to be the favourite to lift the World Cup once again
France knows that they’ll be facing a Moroccan side that looks set to play the game of their lives, while this will be Frances’s seventh World Cup semi-final, it’ll be the first semi-final for any African nation – and Morocco will be incredibly motivated and tough to beat. France has to be careful not to get drawn into a battle, the more this game hots up, the louder the large Moroccan supporting crowd will get, and will only serve to put France at a disadvantage. France will ideally want to quieten the crowd and suck the life out of the Moroccans, the best way to do that is to score early.
Scoring early will also absolve France of the pressure of trying to break down the strong Moroccan defense. Should Morocco score first, France will be faced with no choice but to break down what has been an almost impenetrable wall. Croatia, Belgium, Spain, and Portugal have all failed to score against Morocco, and should France fall behind, there’s no guarantee that they can claw their way back.
France are the better team, to win, they have to remember that and stamp their authority on the game, quieten the crowd and get the first goal.
Scoring the first goal has been a common feature for both of these teams, and as such I think the first goal in this game will prove to be decisive.
S. 2 Ep. 21: Canada Doing What Canada Does – FC13 Podcast
To some, this is a team of destiny that has survived all adversity thrown at it to reach its second semi-final in eight years. To others – it’s a volatile team that has had an easy schedule and was very fortunate to get passed the Netherlands.
But it’s worth remembering that Argentina did dominate the play for the majority of the game against the Netherlands, especially in extra time and as usual, the heart and center of it all was Lionel Messi. Messi has already produced his best statistical World Cup, equalling his goal-scoring tally from 2014 of four and registering two assists, only Kylian Mbappé has more goal contributions so far. For Argentina it’s simple, allow Messi to flourish and the rest of the team will blossom.
Croatia is a tough battle-hardened side, but their midfield three of Luca Modric, Mateo Kovačić, and Marcelo Brozović have a combined age of ninety-five and have played a lot of football lately. If Argentina, buoyed on by a passionate crowd can keep a fast tempo, then it is possible to stretch the Croat midfield and weaken their influence on the game. Argentina will also be very well aware of how good Croatia’s record in penalty shootouts has been, and they’ll be desperate to avoid having to face their Balkan foes in a shootout.
Another World Cup, another unpredicted deep run from Croatia. Perhaps this is the least respected elite team in the world today. No one seems to think of them on the same level as France, and Argentina but they have been highly consistent, and thrive as an underdog.
This team is very well organized, as shown against Brazil who was the tournament’s favorite. Even when Neymar gave Brazil the lead in extra time, the Croatians were able to find an extra gear to equalize right at the death. No team is more proven when facing adversity. Since 2018, Croatia have won five consecutive knockout games in which they have conceded the first goal, they have never fallen two goals behind in a game, and it’ll be important for them to keep calm and remember this should they fall behind to Argentina
Key to Croatia is controlling the midfield and limiting the number of times Messi gets the ball. Indeed if Modric rather than Messi can dictate the play, then it would increase the chances of Croatia beating Argentina, just like they did at the group stages in 2018. It’s fairly simple for Croatia, limit Messi, get Modric on the ball, and should it goes to penalties – keep their nerve as they always see, to do.
Subscribe to 13th Man Sports to get email notifications when we post!