From Eu Weijun
The Netherlands and Argentina made it to a rematch of the 1978 final, just as I’d predicted in my bracket. England and Brazil also did make it to the final eight with relative ease. However, the rest of my pre-tournament picks did not fare as well – Denmark, Belgium, and Serbia did not even make it out of their respective groups.
This is my take on the quarterfinal matches:
Croatia 1-1 Brazil (Croatia win 4-2 on penalties)
Despite managing just one shot on target throughout the match, Croatia made it count – this shot was Bruno Petkovic’s equalising goal in the 117th minute. The Vatreni then came out on top in yet another penalty shootout.
The contrast in the two teams’ mentality could not have been more obvious: Croatia exuded grit, heart, and composure under pressure while Brazil displayed the exact opposite.
Netherlands 2-2 Argentina (Argentina win 4-3 on penalties)
Despite blowing a two-goal lead after 82 minutes, Argentina barely hung on after Lautaro Martínez scored the decisive penalty to put the Albiceleste in the semifinals.
The word “feisty” does not do this match justice – 17 bookings and a red card were handed out. Argentina now have a chance to avenge their group-stage loss to Croatia in Russia four years ago.
Morocco 1-0 Portugal
Morocco continued their remarkable underdog run with perhaps the biggest upset of the tournament to date. Youssef En-Nesyri’s header made Morocco the first African team in World Cup history to qualify for the semifinals. Portugal could have equalised deep into stoppage time, but Pepe’s header was just off the mark.
England 1-2 France
The latest instalment of this storied rivalry saw Les Bleus come out on top thanks to Olivier Giroud’s header. Harry Kane could have equalised for England in the 83rd minute, but his penalty attempt ended up not even being close.
A victory against Morocco in the semifinals would make France just the seventh team in World Cup history to make back-to-back World Cup finals.
Before I discuss my semifinal predictions, I’d like to take a moment to highlight some points of note from this World Cup that many people might have overlooked.
Most underrated team: Australia
The Socceroos finished second in a difficult Group C containing France, Denmark, and Tunisia. In addition, they only finished behind France on goal difference.
Australia then followed this up by running Argentina close in the round of 16 and almost causing a monumental upset. Yet, in spite of all this, Australia do not seem to have received their due credit from the media as well as the majority of fans.
Biggest metagame shift: Three at the back
In this World Cup, more teams than ever before have chosen to run three at the back. This represents the natural progression of the metagame of the past five to 10 years.
In recent years, full-backs have been playing farther forward than ever before, resembling classic wingers. Actual wingers, meanwhile, have begun to play more centrally, while defensive midfielders dropped farther back.
This has resulted in the then-dominant 4-2-3-1 formation to functionally resemble a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 – two formations which are being seen a lot more this time around.
Worst missed opportunity: Belgium
Multiple teams including Germany, Uruguay, and Spain were knocked out earlier than expected. However, the team who will rue a missed opportunity more than any other has to be Belgium.
Belgium were knocked out in the group stage after finishing behind Morocco and Croatia. Both of those teams have since gone on to make the semifinals. Considering this fact as well as Belgium having been favourites to advance at the beginning of the tournament, it isn’t a stretch to say that had they made it out of Group F, Belgium could very well have gone on to win it all.
My semifinal predictions
Argentina vs Croatia
Having made it through two penalty shootouts, Croatia will certainly have a puncher’s chance when they face Argentina.
For their part, the Albiceleste haven’t exactly been firing on all cylinders. In both their round of 16 match against Australia and their quarterfinal tie against the Netherlands, Argentina “switched off” after taking a 2-0 lead and could easily have lost either.
That being said, Argentina should just about take it thanks to their abundance of match-winning talent.
France vs Morocco
France have well and truly banished the “reigning champions curse” with an extremely impressive run to the semifinals.
For Morocco, as remarkable a story as they have been, this is almost certainly where their Cinderella run comes to an end. Not only are the Atlas Lions overmatched in every way, injuries have also started to take a toll on the team.
France should not face any difficulty in claiming the victory and entering a second consecutive World Cup final.
Eu Weijun is an FMT reader and a huge Bundesliga fan.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.
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