Tuesday, December 13, 2022

World Cup News: Semifinal Matchups Set; Croatia Shocks Brazil; Messi Win for Argentina; No Kane Do For England As France Advances; Stingy Morocco Sweeps Portugal and Ronaldo From Tournament

Tournament favorite Brazil was bounced by a tenacious Croatia squad looking to make a second consecutive World Cup Finals appearance. The two sides failed to score in regulation before Neymar Jr. scored in extra time to put Brazil on the brink of advancing. Neymar’s goal was his 77th international goal, tying Pele for the FIFA sanctioned record by a Brazilian player. Brazil’s hopes for a sixth World Cup title were smashed, however, when Croatia’s Bruno Petkovic scored in the second period of extra time to throw the match into penalty kicks. Brazil’s tournament then ended when Croatia converted all four of its penalty tries while Brazil was missing twice. Croatian goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic registered 11 saves in the match, the highest total by a goalkeeper in this tournament and he and his teammates were victorious in penalties for a second consecutive World Cup match. Eight of Croatia’s last nine knockout matches in major tournaments have now gone to overtime. Brazil was eliminated by a European side for a fifth consecutive World Cup.

Argentina faces Croatia in Tuesday’s semifinal after a messy quarterfinal win over the Netherlands. The match saw a tournament record 17 yellow cards. At one point Argentina’s Leandro Paredes intentionally booted a ball at the Netherlands bench before being shoved to the ground by Liverpool defender Virgil Van Dijk. Lionel Messi, meanwhile, was involved in verbal altercations with the Netherlands coaching staff. Argentina seemed to have had things under control when Messi’s penalty kick in the 73rd minute gave Argentina a two-goal lead. Wout Weghorst, who had a cup of coffee in the Premier League last season for Burnley, then entered the match for the Netherlands. The 6’6” striker would score twice in the final ten minutes of regulation and force extra time and ultimately penalties. Aston Villa goalkeeper Emi Martinez then made saves on the Netherlands’ Van Dijk and Steven Berghuis to send Argentina to the semifinals to face Croatia.

Defending champion France made it to the final four by defeating England 2-1. Former Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud’s fourth goal of the tournament proved the winner as England’s Harry Kane failed to convert a late penalty kick. Kane had scored England’s first and only goal earlier in the match on a penalty but his attempt to put a second past his Tottenham Hotspur teammate and France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was blasted well high of the net. Kane’s earlier conversion had tied him with Wayne Rooney for the England scoring record of 53. His failed attempt to break that tie, however, will be more remembered by English fans. England outplayed France for much of the match but were unable to score from open play against Lloris who made six saves against England after notching only two in his previous four matches of the tournament.

The Cinderella story of this year’s World Cup is Morocco which has become the first African nation to reach a World Cup semifinal. The Moroccans defeated Portugal 1-0 and have allowed only a single goal, an own goal at that, all tournament. Manager Walid Regragui has seen his Morocco side keep seven clean sheets in his eight-match tenure leading the Atlas Lions, four of those goose eggs coming in this World Cup. Morocco shut down a Portugal side which had just scored six goals against Switzerland earlier in the week. Cristiano Ronaldo tied the record for international appearances with his second half substitution for Portugal. Ronaldo’s removal from Portugal’s starting eleven this tournament has fueled more drama for the controversial legend as rumors fly concerning where he will next ply his trade after his fiery exit from Manchester United. 

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