Writing hyperbolic statements is not in my wheelhouse, and it still isn’t. That said, the four quarterfinal matches at the 2022 FIFA World Cup™ were the best crop of matches the tournament has seen in quite some time. Croatia shocked Brazil with a late equalizer and eventually won in penalties. Argentina blew a 2-0 lead, before conquering the Dutch in penalty shoot out. Morocco ended Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal’s dreams but ignited an entire continent with their gutsy 1-0 victory. And England, well, England did what England has done in the past, and fell to France despite probably deserving to go through. So here we are, in the World Cup Semifinal with four teams that all earned their way to this point. And if a noon Eastern kickoff seems odd, soccer fans are well-versed in watching big matches on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (thank you Champions League). Be sure to catch all the drama on FOX.
Tuesday – December 12, 2022
Croatia vs Argentina – 2pm ET on FOX
Luka Modric vs Lionel Messi. The Real Madrid hero and Barcelona icon headline a tantalizing matchup. Zlatko Dalić’s seasoned and steady Croatia team have ‘ho-hummed’ their way to consecutive World Cup semifinal appearances. While some would argue that it hasn’t been pretty, just like every other tournament in the world, only three words ring true: Survive and Advance. To get to this point, every team will have showcased these words, but Croatia has made it look almost too comfortable. Even when falling behind Brazil in the 105th minute, this is a team that was drilled, and knew their individual roles, and didn’t show restraint or defeat. They pushed forward, and with a little fortune, found the back of the net in the 117’ before taking four clinical penalties to finish off arguably the most talented team in the tournament. Croatia did the same in the previous round, falling behind to Japan, before equalizing moments later and finishing the job in another penalty shoot out. Now, to get the one win that eluded them in 2018, they must take down Lionel Messi, a man who looks possessed to finally raise the trophy that has also eluded him his entire career. Messi has done it all this tournament, and when I say done it all, he’s even done things he doesn’t normally do. The normal things: you know, scoring, assisting and dribbling his way through defenses. The abnormal? La Pulga has done some flopping, clawing, arguing, and even bad-mouthing to get to this point. He wants it that bad.
Croatia will probably not sit back as much as they did vs Brazil when they play Argentina, but they will be selective as to when they go forward. As we’ve seen, Croatia will not unravel due to the pressure; they’ll stick to the plan and rarely make mistakes. Argentina on the other hand, has shown the moment can cause some irrational decisions. They almost blew a two goal lead to Australia and followed it up with the same act vs the Netherlands. But in the end, they’ve found a way. Survive and advance. The entire world seems to be pulling for Lionel Messi, while Croatia, a country smaller than many cities, found their way back to being one game away from another Final. The drama will be high, the nerves even higher.
Wednesday – December 13, 2022
France vs Morocco – 2pm ET on FOX
After exploding for six goals in their Round of 16 match, Portugal could not break through Morocco’s elite defense. Goalkeeper Yassine Bounou made some big saves and Morocco took advantage of their few chances while having only 26% of possession. It’s a common phrase in the sport: That’s football. Morocco became the first African nation to make it to the semifinals of the World Cup™ and the team in red and green have executed their plan perfectly all tournament. With some elite individual talent in Hakim Ziyech (Chelsea) and Achraf Hakimi (PSG) they have come together to become an immovable object. Now, manager Walid Regragui, who took over just two-and-a-half months before their first World Cup match, will meet France. Led by Hakimi’s PSG teammate Kylian Mbappe, the defending champions will now try to be the team who can finally break through the Moroccan defense. They surely have the talent to do it, but so did Portugal, Spain, Belgium and Croatia. All four of those teams could not break through, as only Canada was the only team to get on the scoreboard vs The Atlas Lions. And guess what? That goal was an own goal. So, the only team to actually score on Morocco, is Morocco.
The recipe is the same as it has been all tournament for Hakimi and company: hold firm and take advantage of your opportunities. The pressure is entirely on France, just as it was against the other European giants they have slain. The key for Les Bleus will be to get ahead as early as possible and to extend the lead when they can. Morocco is NOT a team that you want to let hang around. Olivier Giroud has filled the void left by Karim Benzema, and his play will be key in this one again. With consistent double teams on the wing forcing him to pass, England showed how to slow down Mbappe. It’s the defending champions vs cinderella. Strap in.