2022 FIFA World Cup: Semifinals Preview
And then there were four. Following an exciting round of quarterfinal matches, the semifinals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup are set. In the quarterfinals, there were some upsets while there were also some extremely exciting matches between powerhouse teams.
While the matches were close and exciting, there was also some controversy due to some poor refereeing at times. Nonetheless, two of the 2022 World Cup favorites are now out and we get two great semifinals with all four teams fighting to make history.
Argentina vs Croatia – Tuesday, Dec. 13
Argentina needed penalties against the Netherlands to advance to the semifinals after a very feisty match. Their World Cup Quarterfinals match saw a record 18 yellow cards shown to players on the field and the bench. Argentina had the match under control up 2-0 thanks to goals from Nahuel Molina and Lionel Messi. However, two late goals saw the Dutch force the match into extra time. Then for a second time in the past three World Cups, the teams went to penalties. In 2014 Argentina won 0(4)-0(2) on penalties to advance to the 2014 World Cup Final.
This time they won 2(4)-2(3) on penalties to move to the semifinals. The hero of the shootout was once again Emiliano Martínez. The Argentine goalkeeper stopped the first two Dutch penalties giving his team complete control. Penalties have become a specialty for Martinéz who rose to stardom at the 2021 Copa Americas by helping Argentina beat Colombia on penalties on the way to lifting the South American trophy. He could play a huge part in the 2022 World Cup Semifinals match against Croatia if this were to go to penalties.
As fans, we were hoping that Brazil would be in this semifinal, but Croatia and their penalty experience denied that. The quarterfinal match between Brazil and Croatia was not the prettiest in normal time but spiced up in extra time. First, it was Neymar that gave Brazil a 1-0 lead at the end of the first half of extra time. They looked all but through until Bruno Petković scored a late equalizer to send the match to penalties. This is where Croatia thrives. They have now been in four penalty shootouts in the last two World Cups winning all four. Against Brazil, it was relatively smooth sailing once again. Dominik Livaković saved the first Brazilian penalty and then forced the final one off the post to advance. While Brazil missed two of their four penalties, Croatia did not miss and won the shootout 4-2.
The two penalty wins set us up for a rematch between Argentina and Croatia who played in the 2018 World Cup. Four years ago they met in the group stage with Croatia dominating to a 3-0 win. All three goals came in the second half for Croatia. This time should be different with just three players who started that match likely starting for Argentina, while Croatia also has just three starters from that match predicted to start this time around.
For Croatia to win they will need to do what we have seen them do for the last two World Cups, and that is control the play and grind out an extra time or penalty win. Only one player has scored multiple goals for Croatia and the 2022 FIFA World Cup and that is Andrej Kramarić with two. Outside of a 4-1 beat down of Canada, the Balkan nation has just two goals in four matches. Their bread and butter is a strong midfield that takes the air out of the ball when possessing but also smothers opponents. Luka Modrić has not been playing like he is 37 years old at all in this World Cup. He has once again been a star for Croatia as the captain and looks determined to do one spot better than Croatia’s second-place finish in 2018.
As Argentina are concerned, they will need to find that attacking spirit to break down the Croatian midfield and defense that has allowed just three goals. Besides Messi, Argentina will need Julián Álvarez and Lautaro Martinéz to step up. Martinéz scored the winning penalty against the Netherlands but has not lived up to expectations at the 2022 World Cup so far. As always though for Argentina to have success Messi will need to do something special. He has scored in four of the five matches Argentina has played and sits second in the golden boot race behind Kylian Mbappé (5).
However, if this match is to go to penalties, which it very well could, then all attention will be put on Emiliano Martínez for Argentina and Livaković for Croatia. Both have penalty experience and could become national heroes if this semifinal match goes the distance.
I can see this going to penalties, but I do not think it will happen. One of either Messi or Modrić will show out and get the winning goal. I am going to lean towards Messi in this one and back him to get Argentina into the 2022 World Cup Final. I have Argentina winning 1-0 after extra time.
France vs Morocco – Wednesday, Dec. 14
France left it late and needed some help, but managed to beat England 2-1 in the 2022 World Cup quarterfinals. Aurélien Tchouaméni opened the scoring before Harry Kane converted a penalty in the second half to draw level. Then it was the Olivier Giroud show. France’s all-time goal scorer looked destined for the winner and got it after being denied from close range. Giroud put France up 2-1, but it was Kane that sealed the win for France. The English captain got a second penalty attempt, but this time skied it over the bar.
The best-looking team at this 2022 FIFA World Cup has been France. They have the top two goal scorers in Kylian Mbappé (5) and Giroud (4). Defensively they have struggled at times allowing one goal in each match. They should be feeling better after beating a strong attacking England team though.
The surprise team of the 2022 World Cup has been Morocco. They became the fourth-ever African team to make a World Cup Quarterfinal and now become the first to make the semifinals. In the quarterfinals, a first-half goal from Youssef En-Nesyri was the difference against Portugal in a 1-0 Moroccan win. The offense has not been exceptional for Morocco this far as they have scored five goals in five matches, but twice had a 0-0 draw.
It has been the defense that has guided Morocco on this historic run. With the likes of Achraf Hakimi and Romain Saïss, the Moroccan defense has been impenetrable. They have allowed just one goal in the 2022 World Cup and that was an own goal. This means that for France to get by they will need to become the first team to score against Morocco.
For France to win it seems simple, just use your stars to outmatch Morocco. That is far easier said than done. Belgium, Croatia, Spain, and Portugal have all tried and failed. History is on France’s side as they have won seven of the 11 prior meetings, compared to Morocco’s one win. However, with the talent that France has in attack, it would not surprise anyone if they came out firing. Antoine Griezmann played extremely well against England and has been somewhat underappreciated at this World Cup.
The French also have the benefit of having stronger players to come off the bench. With that being said they did only use one substitute against England. It is always important to have that depth late in a tournament and with Kingsley Coman, Benjamin Pavard, and Eduardo Camavinga France has that.
While the defense is key for Morocco, they could be without their captain and center-back Saïss. He was taken off on a stretcher in the quarterfinals against Portugal and is doubtful for the semifinals. This is a big blow for Morocco as Saïss has been excellent in Qatar. There is a chance he plays, but it is unlikely that he would be at full health. Another player missing the semifinals for Morocco is Walid Cheddira as he was shown a red card in the quarterfinals.
For Morocco to beat the nation they gained independence from in 1956, they will need to step up in the midfield and press France. England did a good job stopping France from getting on the run and countering which is something that Morocco needs to do. With Hakimi being quick up and down the line he will be a key player for Morocco against France. This could be an issue if he gets caught too far up with the attack and France gets going the other way. Hakimi does have the benefit of playing with Mbappé at PSG so he should know how to at least slow down the Frenchman.
The other matchup in this semifinal match is the goalkeeper battle. Hugo Lloris faced more shots against England than he had in the rest of the 2022 World Cup combined. He stepped up when called upon and made some big saves. Opposing him is one of the stars of the tournament in Yassine Bounou or Bono. Bono has six saves in the tournament and stopped two penalties against Spain in the Round of 16.
Morocco’s defense is more than capable of stopping France, but this is also the most explosive side they will have faced. I believe the star power of Mbappé and Giroud is a difference maker in the 2022 FIFA World Cup semifinals. Sadly the Cinderella run from Morocco will end in the semifinals. I have France winning 3-1.
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