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World Cup hits and misses | Free Malaysia Today – Free Malaysia Today

DOHA: Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe have dazzled at the World Cup in Qatar, while Morocco caught the imagination of a continent on their run to the semifinals.
But the host nation flopped badly, Germany made a swift exit and Cristiano Ronaldo discovered he was no longer an automatic pick for Portugal.
AFP Sport looks at the hits and misses from a month-long festival of football.
Morocco became the first African side and the first Arab team to reach the semifinals of a World Cup. And it was no fluke.
Walid Regragui’s men, ranked 22nd in the world, beat Belgium and drew with Croatia on the way to topping their group before dumping 2010 champions Spain and Portugal out of the tournament.
Roared on by tens of thousands of fans and supported across Africa and the Arab world, they came up short in the semifinals, losing 2-0 to France, but they have broken new ground.
Japan shocked Germany and Spain to top their group before losing on penalties to Croatia in the round of 16.
South Korea underlined the progress Asian football is making by beating Portugal to qualify from their group but came unstuck against Brazil in the first knockout round.
Superstars shine
Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe, who will go head to head in today’s final, have certainly lived up to their stellar billing.
The forwards have five goals apiece as they vie for the Golden Boot.
Messi, 35, though lacking his former pace, has shown an uncanny knack to turn on the style at key moments, highlighted by his dazzling run to set up Julian Alvarez for the third goal against Croatia in the semifinals.
Mbappe, 23, is ready to take on his Paris Saint-Germain teammate’s mantle as the best player in the world, looking unstoppable at times for defending champions France.
Young guns
A clutch of young players have announced themselves on football’s biggest stage in Qatar, and already look like they belong.
Manchester City forward Julian Alvarez has already scored four goals while Portugal’s Goncalo Ramos smashed a hattrick in a 6-1 win against Switzerland after being brought in to replace Cristiano Ronaldo.
England pair Bukayo Saka and Jude Bellingham caught the eye along with Dutch forward Cody Gakpo, while Croatia defender Josko Gvardiol enjoyed an outstanding tournament.
Fallen giants
Cristiano Ronaldo left the pitch in tears after Morocco ended his World Cup dream.
The superstar forward, without a club after his painful divorce from Manchester United, scored Portugal’s first goal of the World Cup from the penalty spot in their win against Ghana.
But he was left out of the starting line-up for their last-16 clash and watched from the sidelines as Portugal ripped Switzerland apart.
Neymar equalled Pele’s record haul of 77 goals for Brazil but watched in agony as his side lost to Croatia on penalties in the quarterfinals.
The Brazil great announced after his side’s exit that he might have played his final match for his country, saying he was “psychologically destroyed”.
Early exits
Qatar came into the World Cup with high hopes as reigning Asian champions but left their own party embarrassingly early.
They became only the second home team to crash out of a World Cup in the group stage after South Africa in 2010, losing all three of their matches and scoring just once.
Four-time winners Germany were also humiliated, exiting at the group stage for the second straight World Cup.
Coach Hansi Flick as clung on to his job but German football chiefs have launched a review to find out what went wrong.
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