HomeFIFA World CupAnd then there were four

And then there were four

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This is a crazy, crazy World Cup. After all the upsets, dramas, controversies and chaos of the group stage, the 2022 FIFA World Cup moved to the knockout stages. And if there was any doubt that the excitement would drop down was hugely mistaken. And after 12 insane matches, we finally have our last four, which include some surprise teams. Ultimately, Argentina, Croatia, Morocco and England made the cut for the last four.

While Lionel Messi’s dream of a World Cup title remains alive, the same can’t be said for Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo, both of whom were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Croatia and Morocco, respectively. Earlier, in the round of 16, favourites Spain were knocked out. 

Penalty shootouts have also played a big part as four matches out of 12 have been decided on them. This has given us some of the craziest upsets as players have shown immense calm to help their team win the shootout. In fact, all the four shootouts have been won by the team that had a 1-0 lead after the first set of penalties.

So, here’s a recap of the past week of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Lionel Messi and Co. keep the World Cup dream alive

After 120 minutes against the Netherlands, Argentina would have been feeling as if some divine power didn’t want them to win. Well, they were not wrong, as they had surrendered a 2-0 lead in the last 20 minutes of the game. The second goal came with the last kick of the game. 

The Argentinians had taken the lead in the 35th minute after Lionel Messi produced a magical pass that found its way to Nahuel Molina, who made no mistake. The lead was doubled in the 73rd minute when Messi converted a penalty kick.

However, the Netherlands were not done yet as Wout Weghorst scored a brace to make the match alive. Again, the winner had a hero in their goalkeeper in all four penalty shootouts. And this time, Argentina’s Emiliano Martinez produced two stunning saves from Virgil van Dijk and Steven Berghuis to help them get over the line. 

Croatia script history, beat Brazil to reach the semis

Before the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Brazil were termed as one of the favourites expected to win their sixth title. Under manager Tite, the Selecao had a brilliant team stacked with talent to the brim. Brazil could call upon the likes of Neymar, Vincius Jr, Richarlison, Raphinha, Casemiro, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, and Alisson. 

And true to their form, they brought their best topping their group before thrashing South Korea in the round of 16. Against Koreans, they scored four goals inside 40 minutes, showing the beauty of Joga Bonito. 

So, when Brazil met Croatia at the Education City Stadium, most fans expected Brazil to enter the semi-finals. This belief was further strengthened after Neymar gave them the lead in the extra time. However, with just four minutes left, Croatia dug out every ounce of strength they had to launch a counterattack in the dying minutes that got them the ball. 

And then there was Dominik Livakovic waiting as he produced another stellar display in the penalty shootout to win it for Croatia. It will be a hard loss for the Brazilians to take. Manager Tite has already announced his resignation, and several players might have played their last World Cup.

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En-Nesyri’s goal helps Morocco become first African team to reach semis 

Without a doubt, the biggest story of the past week will be Morocco’s historic run to the World Cup semi-finals. The Atlas Lions defied all odds to beat Spain and Portugal to reach the last four. They were at their best against Portugal as they used their limited possession well and took the lead in the 42nd minute. 

It all came when Youssef En Nesyri rose high over keeper Diogo Costa and Ruben Dias to head the ball into the net.

Following this, their famed defence that has conceded only one goal (that too, an own goal) in the current World Cup did its job perfectly. Even when Portugal had chances, Morocco’s goalkeeper Yassine Bounou made some brilliant saves. And when referee Facundo Tello blew the final whistle, Morocco had created history. However, Morocco, which everyone has seen in this tournament, would not be content and would want to reach the final.

Harry Kane’s missed penalty gives France the win 

Harry Kane experienced the two extremes of emotions in a single match as he scored one penalty and missed the other. Defending champions France started the game on the front foot and created several chances. However, it took a long-range screamer from Aurelien Tchouameni to open the deadlock. The midfielder found himself on the end of the ball 25 yards. 

However, England ramped up the pressure and earned their reward in the opening minutes of the second half after they won a penalty. Up stepped Harry Kane, who scored the spot kick and equalled Wayne Rooney’s record as the highest goal scorer for England. 

For the next 20 minutes, the game was an end-to-end affair before Olivier Giroud scored to put France back into the lead. This left England no alternative but to attack: and attack they did, which won them another penalty. 

However, with such massive pressure on his shoulders, Kane cracked and blasted the ball into the crowd. After that, England never came close again and went out of the tournament. Meanwhile, France continue their march to become the first team in 60 years to defend their title.

What next for Neymar?

While Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo may not have age on their side, Neymar is still only 30 years and will be able to play in the next World Cup. However, after the loss, the forward said there was no guarantee that he would play the next edition in 2026. 

“I am not closing any doors on the national team, but I am also not guaranteeing 100 per cent that I will return. I need to think a bit more about this, about what is the right thing for me and for the national team,” Neymar said.

If he doesn’t return to the national team, he will finish his career on level with Pele as the top scorer for the Selecao. 

Saumy Deepak Tripathi
A Bayern Munich fan who is deeply in love with football statistics. Has a soft spot for goalkeepers! (well only he knows why). You’ll find him vibing on 70’s classic songs and spends an abnormal amount of time cooking.

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