Les Bleus clash with a shade of white

People are saying the final will be Magical Messi versus Marvellous Mbappe. That would be true to an extent, and a bit emotional as well, because Messi has finally announced that he will be retiring after this Cup.

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By VoN Sports Team

What people are saying is that for the December 18 final of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup, it will be Magical Messi versus Marvellous Mbappe. That would be true to an extent – a bit emotional as well, because Messi has finally announced that he will be retiring from national team duty after this Cup – though football is a team game and many more factors come into play once the whistle blows.

However, if we look back at the way Argentina and holders France have shaped up, we can get a fair idea of what may happen. 

Belying their pre-match reputation, Croatia could not really come up to their standard versus Argentina. The  interesting fact of this, the first semi-final, probably would be the Croats’ overarching concentration on Messi, missing the presence of the fast moving Julian Alvarez up the wings. In the end, even Messi was able to forward a brilliant assist for Alvarez.

Maybe the first penalty awarded to Argentina was a turning point., if anything, it s was an unfair decision by the referee. The box is the sole preserve of the goalkeeper. If he is not supposed to charge out to a forward, is he supposed to politely request the attacker to not score?

 Meanwhile, the Alvarez-Messi partnership has developed at the right time and pretty well. They will be watched by the French.

Also, Enzo Fernandez and Alexis Mac Allister have been revelations in midfield, adding solidity to defence and helping to progress the ball quickly when needed. They’ll both need to be on guard against Antoine Griezmann who has been outstanding in the French midfield.

Griezmann has a unique role, possibly one of the old time sweeper back’s, yet manning the midfield. He has been covering huge space and feeds the forward line in time and in abundance.

For France, the big story will be in containing the rampaging Kylian Mbappe. Too much man-marking on Mbappe, however, might leave the fleet-footed and Olivier Giroud out in the open.

The French strike force getting momentum, not to mention pushing forward to lend a hand to the attacking build-up.

Let us see how the semi-finals shaped up.

FIRST SEMI-FINAL
Messi, Alvarez shine
Hoping to emulate late Diego Maradona by ending Argentina’s title drought Lionel Messi guided the lone Latin American country left in the fray to the final. Argentina thrashed Luka Modric-led Croatia 3-0 at the Lusail Stadium.

Opening the scoring for Argentina Messi scored his fifth goal of the tournament to become the all-time leading goal scorer for the country in the World Cup. Messi’s goal came off a controversial penalty, before Julian Alvarez scored twice to seal victory for Argentina.

This will be Messi’s second World Cup final. Argentina lost the other one to Germany in 2014. And this could be the perfect way to go out for a player widely regarded as one of the game’s best players.

Croatia, aiming to reach back-to-back finals after their 2018 heroics, were the better side during a cagey opening half-hour, but goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic brought down Alvarez as the Manchester City striker lifted the ball over him. Controversy rages as to how much defence by a goalkeeper is defence and when it transgresses to the foul zone.

Livakovic was his country’s hero in the shootout wins over Japan and Brazil but he was left with no chance as Messi thumped his penalty into the top-right corner to join Kylian Mbappe at the top of the Golden Boot leading scorer race.

Alvarez then tenaciously bundled his way through a scattered Croatia backline on the counter-attack to double the lead, and the two goal-scorers combined delightfully in the 69th minute — Messi tormenting Josko Gvardiol with a winding dribble before teeing up Alvarez for his fourth of the tournament.

 After the match Messi said: “I feel many things, it’s very exciting to see all this. Seeing the people, the family throughout the World Cup was something incredible. We’re going for the last game, which was what we wanted. Argentina is, once again, in the world final. Enjoy. We knew we weren’t the top candidates, but we weren’t going to give anyone anything. We showed it game by game.”

Álvarez Said: “I’m happy, we deserved this. We’re in the final and that’s what we wanted. Now to rest and try to have a great game on December 18.”

SECOND SEMI-FINAL
France too good for Morocco
France beat Morocco 2-0 in an absorbing semi-final. Theo Hernandez and Randal Kolo Muani provided France with major breakthroughs at the Al Bayt Stadium with France becoming the first defending champions to qualify for consecutive World Cup finals since Brazil did it in 1998.

Theo Hernandez scored in the fifth minute in a perfect start for the holders, who would have been looking for an early strike to silence the rowdy Moroccan support.

Morocco have been the surprise package of Qatar 2022 and Walid Regragui’s side responded superbly after Hernandez’s fifth-minute opener, pinning back the world champions for significant periods in a display of considerable courage and skill.

A brilliant save by Dominik Livakovic

However, Eintracht Frankfurt striker Kolo Muani proved to be France’s unlikely hero, scoring with his first touch after Kylian Mbappe had a shot blocked 11 minutes from time.

Morocco have already upset 2010 champions Spain and highly rated Portugal on the way to the semi-finals, a record that left France captain Hugo Lloris warning his teammates against complacency.

Deschamps’ team are closing in on a third World Cup triumph in seven tournaments but will be aware that no team has retained the World Cup since Pele’s Brazil performed the feat in 1962.

The game will have added spice given France was Morocco’s colonial power and more than a million Moroccans live in the country.

France have reached the World Cup final four times in the last seven editions of the tournament (1998, 2006, 2018 and 2022), at least twice more than any other nation over the period.

QUARTER FINALS
December 9
Croatia beat Brazil
In one of the most dramatic ends to the FIFA World Cup game in this edition, Croatia defeated Brazil on penalties to qualify for the semi-finals of the tournament. Croatia knocked Brazil out of the World Cup, beating the five-time champions 4-2 in a penalty shootout to reach the semi-finals for the second straight time.

Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic saved a penalty attempt by Rodrygo and Marquinhos later hit the post.

The match had finished 1-1 after extra time, with both goals coming in the additional 30 minutes. Neymar scored late in the first half of extra time to give Brazil the lead, but Croatia equalized when Bruno Petkovic scored in the 117th.

Neymar’s brilliant goal moved him into a tie with Pelé as Brazil’s all-time leading scorer with 77 goals.

Brazil coach Tite resigned after the World Cup loss to Croatia. Both of Tite’s World Cup squads (2018 and 2022) were eliminated in the quarterfinals. “The fifth penalty is the decisive one. There is more pressure and players who are mentally prepared are best to take it,” Tite said of his decision.

December 10
Argentina beat Netherlands on penalties
Argentina claimed a dramatic 4-3 penalty shootout victory over Netherlands on Friday to claim a spot in the World Cup semi-finals after initially throwing away a two-goal lead in a late collapse in regulation time.

Lionel Messi converted his penalty in the shootout and Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez saved two attempts. Lautaro Martinez scored the clinching penalty.

The match finished 2-2 after extra time, with Messi scoring one goal and setting up another. The Netherlands equalized in the 11th minute of second-half stoppage time.

Messi provided a superb assist with a delicately threaded pass to defender Nahuel Molina who slotted past goalkeeper Andries Noppert to hand Argentina a first-half lead. The Paris Saint-Germain forward added Argentina’s second on 73 minutes with a well-taken penalty.

Messi scored from the penalty spot in the 73rd to make it 2-0 with his fourth goal of this year’s World Cup.

It took him to 10 goals in the World Cup, tied with Gabriel Batistuta for the most for Argentina, and 94 goals in total in his 169 international games.

“Argentina are among the four best in the world because we showed we know how to play every game with the same desire and the same intensity,” Messi said after advancing to the World Cup semi final for the second time in his career.

The loss for Netherlands eliminates them from the tournament, as well as signalling the end of head coach Louis van Gaal’s third spell in charge. The 71-year-old coach, who is undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, had already made clear ahead of the tournament this would be his last in charge.

Morocco beat Portugal
Marvellous Morocco have lit up this World Cup – and their fans got their reward by witnessing their side becoming the first from their continent to reach the semi-finals.

In what could be his last appearance in a World Cup match, Portugal legend Cristiano Ronaldo was seen crying inconsolably as his team were shocked 1-0 by Morocco in the quarter-finals of the ongoing FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Morocco created history as they became the first African nation to make it through to the last 4 stages of the showpiece event. Before them, Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana had all fallen at the quarter-finals hurdle.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal were sent home, and the Atlas Lions roared on courtesy of Youssef En-Nesyri’s first-half headed winner. “We are becoming a team everyone loves because we are showing what we can achieve,” said victorious boss Walid Regragui.

Ronaldo fails to control his emotions after Portugal’s defeat

“If you show passion, heart and belief, you can succeed and my players have shown that. It is not a miracle – those in Europe might say it is, but we have beaten Portugal, Spain, Belgium and drawn against Croatia without conceding. That is the result of hard work.

“African and Arab teams work hard but we have made our people happy and proud. The whole continent is proud. When you watch Rocky Balboa, you want to support him and we are the Rocky of this World Cup.”

Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010) had all fallen at the quarter-final hurdle but Morocco broke the glass ceiling to cause pandemonium at Al Thumama Stadium.

France edge out England
World Cup holder France remains on course in its title defence after beating England 2-1 to reach the semi-finals at Qatar 2022.

Aurélien Tchouaméni gave France a first-half lead, his powerful shot setting the game ablaze at the Al Bayt Stadium. England grew into the game and team captain Harry Kane emphatically converted from the penalty spot to draw the 2018 semifinalists level. The goal was his 53rd for his country, drawing him level with Wayne Rooney as England’s all-time top scorer.

With just over 10 minutes remaining, Olivier Giroud’s header gave the reigning champion the lead once again, with Kane skying a late penalty as France was able to hold onto victory.

France will face Morocco in the semi-finals after it beat Portugal earlier in the day to become the first ever team from Africa to reach this stage of the World Cup.

The French victory ensured Didier Deschamps’ team is the first defending champion to have progressed past the quarterfinals this century.

ROUND Of 16
Netherlands beat USA: Memphis Depay opened the scoring for Netherlands, slotting the ball into the net with a shot from inside the box. Right on the cusp of half-time, Daley Blind swept in Netherlands’ second to put his team 2-0 ahead. Haji Right pulled one back for USA in the second-half to instil some hope in the hearts of fans. Just minutes later, Denzel Dumfries, however, scored his first goal of the tournament to make it 3-1 for Netherlands. USA couldn’t make any late comeback and lost the match 1-3.

December 4
Argentina beat Australia: In his 1000th career appearance, Lionel Messi had his best match of the World Cup so far as Argentina took down Australia 2-1 to book their place in the quarterfinal against the Netherlands.

Despite having a two-goal lead, however, the final moments of the game were far nervier than Argentina would have anticipated. Messi’s moment of brilliance came in the 35th minute, after the first third of the game was managed well by Australia.

France beat Poland: Kylian Mbappe scored twice as France beat Poland 3-1 in the third Round of 16 fixture at the 2022 World Cup. The 23-year-old became only the first player in World Cup history to score eight goals before turning 24. Olivier Giroud also registered in the record books after overtaking Thierry Henry as France men’s all time record goal scorer with his strike in the first half.

Robert Lewandowski put one back in for Poland from the penalty spot but it was too late for the Group C runner ups to make a possible comeback in the game. France will now face the winner of the England-Senegal match in the quarter final.

December 5
England reach quarter finals: The England captain got off the mark, scoring his first goal at this year’s World Cup in a 3-0 victory over Senegal that set up a must-see match against France in the quarterfinals.

Japan win plaudits: Following a 1-1 stalemate that went to extra time, Croatia beat Japan 3-1 in the first penalty shootout of the 2022 World Cup, courtesy of Dominik Livakovic’s three saves.

Japan took the lead towards the end of the first half as Daizen Maeda scored from a header. Croatia would also use the same way to equalise, early in the second half. Ivan Perisic scored his 10th goal at major tournaments, surpassing Davor Suker to become Croatia’s top scorer at major events.

Japan narrowly lost its second World Cup Group E game to Costa Rica, but then shocked Spain, one of the favourites to win the tournament with a second 2-1 comeback win.

December 6
Brazil crush South Korea: Five-time champions Brazil showcased a performance worthy of their favourites tag to storm into the quarter-finals. Brazil outclassed South Korea 4-1 in their Round of 16 encounter at the Stadium 974 to set up a mouth-watering clash with the 2018 runners-up Croatia, who beat Japan 3-1 on penalties on December 5.

The following are the results of late stage Group League matches:
December 1
Tunisia beat France, Australia beat Denmark: In a nervy Group D scenario, Australia joined France in the Round of 16 with a 1-0 win over Denmark. Tunisia went out as the third-placed team, but not before registering a 1-0 win over France.

December 2
Croatia, Belgium draw: Unable to break the 0-0 deadlock at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium Belgium crashed out of the World Cup as they ended the group stage with four points behind Croatia (6) and Morocco (7).

Germany beat Costa Rica: Germany had an entertaining 4-2 win over Costa Rica, though the result remained academic for the four-time champions.

Morocco beat Canada: Morocco became the first African team to top a World Cup group for 24 years finishing higher than the previous edition’s runners-up Croatia and the second-ranked team Belgium.

South Korea win: Substitute Hwang Hee-chan scored the winner in injury time to rescue South Korea from the brink of World Cup elimination in a thrilling 2-1 victory over already-qualified Portugal.

Uruguay defeat Ghana: Uruguay defeated Ghana 2-0 but failed to make it to the knockouts as South Korea entered the Round of 16 due to the goal difference.

December 3
Switzerland beat Serbia: World Cup group match between Serbia and Switzerland on Friday were told to “stop all discriminatory chants and gestures” as tensions on the pitch boiled over. It was not immediately clear what triggered the announcement during a match that the Swiss won 3-2 to advance to the last 16 and eliminate Serbia.

Cameroon beat Brazil: A late goal by skipper Vincent Aboubakar ended Cameroon’s 20-year wait for a win at the World Cup as the Indomitable Lions bowed out in style by beating a much-changed Brazil 1-0 at the Lusail Stadium.