We’re down to 8 teams left. These quarterfinals would turn out to be some of the best futbol of this World Cup so far.
Croatia 1 (4-2 pen) 1 Brazil: Five-time winner Brazil is looking to get back to the finals for the first time since facing Germany on their home soil eight years ago. Other than that disastrous appearance, they’ve been bounced out of the World Cup at the quarterfinal level in 3 of the last 4 tourneys. Can A Seleção avoid the quarterfinal curse this time? Croatia was a surprise finalist four years ago in Russia and this is likely superstar Luka Modric’s last go-round on the World Cup stage. Can the Vatreni shock the world against the heavily-favored Brazilians? Croatia plays a 4-1-2-3 formation with a dangerous left side that has Perisic at wing and Modric at left mid. Brazil runs 4-2-3-1 with Richarlison up top and Neymar in the prime distribution area behind him.
Brazil had the better first half shots, but was putting everything right at Livakovic in goal. Croatia clogs the goal box whenever Brazil threatens. Croatia’s best first half opportunity came on a cross into the box for Perisic about the 12-minute mark, but he couldn’t quite get a good foot on it. Still Croatia had to feel good about keeping Brazil goalless in the first half.
Brazil came out in the 2nd half putting tremendous pressure on the Croatian defense with better shots, but a great save by Livakovic keeps his sheet clean. Another build-up results in great opportunity for Neymar but he couldn’t get a good foot on it. Croatia is fortunate that an inadvertent handball in the box was negated by an offsides call. Croatia’s defense time and again prevents good angles on shots by Brazil.
Brazil subbed out Richarlison for Pedro at the 83-minute mark. Richarlison had two fantastic goals in this tournament, one of which is the goal of the Cup so far, and is Brazil’s most dangerous finisher. Don’t understand why they would take him out. The game was scoreless at the end of 90, but you had the feeling that Croatia was comfortable in this position as they have been tied at the end of regulation quite a lot in this tournament. With the way that Livakovic shut down Japan in PKs, they would be justifiably confident if they could get the game to penalty kicks.
In first extra period, Brazil maintained the pressure, but Croatia remained stout. Croatia’s best opportunity of game came toward end of the period when Petkovic split two defenders and laid one across for Brozovic, but he sailed his shot high. Toward the end of stoppage time in the period, Brazil finally executed some of their beautiful game. Neymar made a run up the middle and was rewarded with a deft give and go that had him breaking in free on the goalie. Rather than take the quick shot, he pushed the ball beyond the advancing Livakovic and hammered it home.
With only 15 minutes remaining in their tournament life, Croatia had to start taking some risks. About 11 minutes into the second extra period, a quick counterattack down the left side to Orsic is completed with a perfect delivery to the top of the box where Petkovic slammed a left-footer home. Penalty kicks here we come.
Livakovic stoned the first PK by Brazil. Croatia makes its first four shots, while Brazil made the next two. Marquinhos needed to make fourth Brazil kick to keep hope alive, but slammed it off the left post. Brazil overwhelmingly had the shot, shot on goal, and corner kick advantage, but were unable to make the most of those opportunities because of the suffocating defense and great goal-keeping by Livakovic. The Croatian goalie was the star of this match and Croatia is returning to the semi-finals for the second straight time and are looking for a repeat return to the finals. Meanwhile, Brazil, the number one team in the world is sent home in the quarters again. – AW
Netherlands 2 (3-4 pen) 2 Argentina: The Netherlands and Argentina have a long history at the World Cup, facing off in the 1978 finals and prior semis and quarters. The Oranje play the 3-4-1-2 and have 6’8”, but inexperienced Andries Noppert in goal. His only international experience has been in this World Cup. La Albiceleste run a 3-5-2 with Messi and Alvarez up front. Messi is likely playing in his last World Cup. Can he extend his time in the tournament?
Noppert nearly made a brutal mistake in the 7th minute, passing the ball out of the goal box just barely by an oncoming Argentine striker. Messi got his first shot at the 21st minute, but curled it up just a little high and wide. Argentina was really putting some early pressure on the Netherlands defense, but the Dutch settled in and are very quick to the ball, taking away angles and packing the middle to try to attempt to prevent Messi magic. Whenever Messi touched the ball near the box, he usually had 3-5 defenders surrounding him.
Although this game had similarities to the Brazil-Croatia game, it would not remain scoreless in regulation. In the 34th minute, Messi threaded a no-look pass to a cutting Molina up the middle past the defense. Molina struck his shot past Noppert into the left side of the net.
On set pieces, Netherlands kept running two players toward the ball, with the first one running by ball and the second one kicking it. They were not faking anyone out and needed to vary their approach.
The referee seemed to lose control a bit of the match. A lot of yellow cards were issued, including several against the benches. Netherlands had no shots on goal in the first half. The Argentine defense spread itself wider than the Dutch defense, but still didn’t allow runs or passes through. Netherlands was not using their height advantage by putting any crosses high into the box for much of the game.
Early in the second half, Messi committed a very bad handball foul, but the referee didn’t book him. Did he get the superstar treatment? One of his teammates got a yellow for a similarly deliberate handball in the first half. This would become important later.
In the 60th minute, Messi got pulled down outside the box, but his resulting free kick was just barely high. Ten minutes later, Acuna tried cutting back in left side of box and got pulled down. The contact was pretty minimal, but a PK was declared. Messi did a little stutter step which appeared to freeze Noppert and he buried the penalty kick in the right side of the net. Argentina had to feel pretty good about a two-goal lead with about 20 minutes left.
The desperate Dutch immediately brought a forceful attack, but Argentine goalie Emiliano Martinez picked a long ball into the box out of the air and then stood over a fallen de Jong, much like LeBron James over Draymond Green in the NBA Finals some years ago. Tempers flared and players on both teams get booked. With the number of yellow cards, both coaches had to worry about players getting a 2nd yellow and ejected from game.
With the Dutch increasing their pressure, they finally remembered to use their height. In the 83rd minute, Berghuis curled a long cross from right side onto the head of 6’6” Weghorst in the middle of box and he banged it into left corner of net. The Dutch followed up with even more desperate pressure and Berghuis just barely missed with another shot minutes later that went into the side of net.
In the 88th minute, a near riot ensued after Paredes took down Van Dijk in front of the Dutch bench and then fired the ball into their bench. Numerous Dutch players came off bench and Paredes got knocked down. Paredes got one yellow card for the takedown, but probably should have been ejected for firing ball at the bench.
As game went into stoppage time, 10 extra minutes were announced because of frequent time-wasting and yellow-card knockdowns. The Dutch got an early free kick outside the box, but Berghuis couldn’t get his shot through the Argentine wall. With time running out, the Dutch got another free kick just outside the box. Messi gets a yellow for arguing the call. Had he gotten a yellow for the deliberate handball earlier, this would have resulted in his ejection. As the wall jumped, Koopmeiners instead rolled a slow ball to the side of the wall to Weghorst, who controlled with the first touch and turned to put a left footer into the left side of the net to tie it up. Finally, something different from one of their set pieces and it worked perfectly and just in time. The benches cleared again at end of regulation. The last second goal by the Dutch absolutely stunned the Argentines.
Each team has one good opportunity in first extra period, but couldn’t convert. There was also more fouling, but the ref kept the card in his pocket. However, the card came out early in the second extra period when Montiel said something that he shouldn’t have after a takedown. A few minutes later, Pezzella knocks Gakpo down on a breakaway and got booked. The free kick got through, but the Dutch can’t get a good foot on the ball.
Argentina threatened with a nice sequence where DiMaria set up Fernandez, who in turn delivered a perfectly placed ball to Martinez, but his shot was deflected. As time was running out, Argentina ramped up the pressure. They clearly did not want to go to penalty kicks. However, the Dutch defense would not wilt. Noppert shut down one good shot and punched out DiMaria’s attempt to curl in a corner kick. Argentina put another one off the left post. The rally was averted and for the second time today, we were going to penalty kicks. Noppert had never faced a penalty shootout in his professional career. Would that lack of experience cost the Dutch?
Martinez guessed right and blocked the first two Dutch penalty kicks. He made no saves during the game, but came up strong here. Messi, Paredes, and Montiel deliver on the first three Argentine kicks. Koopmeiners, Weghorst, and de Jong make the next three kicks for the Dutch, while Fernandez was wide left in the 4th position for Argentina. So, it came down to Lautaro Martinez with the 5th penalty kick for Argentina. He put a perfectly placed ball into the left side of net. Noppert’s inexperience likely was deadly. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Dutch arguing during the shootout resulted in two yellows for Dumfries and a yellow for Lang. None of it mattered as Argentina was through to the semis. – AW
Morocco 1 – 0 Portugal: Morocco are the only non-European or South American team left in the tournament. Portugal has been a constant World Cup disappointment throughout the storied career of Cristiano Ronaldo. Both come into this game with something to prove. The Atlas Lions play a pretty standard 4-3-3 formation as does Os Navegadores. Portugal again starts with Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench.
Portugal controlled things early on, but Morocco brought everyone back on defense. However, Morocco would make quick counterattacks down the sides and was finding space to operate. In the 42nd minute, on a high cross into the box, En-Nesyri soared over a defender and the goalie and directed his header down and bounced it into the net.
In first half stoppage time, the referee did call a foul in the box against a Moroccan defender. Portugal rightly upset that they didn’t get a PK. However, they responded with an excellent opportunity that went off the top post. Morocco in turn had a great shot that was just barely wide left. Morocco went into the half with their one goal lead.
Minutes into the second half, a brilliant free kick from outside the box on the right by El Yamiq, into the goal box flooded with Moroccans. Costa was just able to make the save and a rebound went off a defender. Five minutes into the second half, Ronaldo subbed in. Portugal looked better without him in the first knockout game. Can Ronaldo now be the hero leading a comeback in this one?
A Ramos header goes just wide in the 58th minute, but both teams were finding some success on high crosses into the box. Morocco had a speed advantage that they were using to quickly counterattack, but were otherwise staying home to frustrate Portugal. In the 83rd minute, Ronaldo set us Felix for a left-footer just inside the goal box, but Bounou made a great save by just getting a hand on the ball to direct it out. As stoppage time began, Ronaldo got an opportunity, but fired it right at Bounou for another save.
A couple of minutes into stoppage time, Cheddira got a 2nd yellow and was ejected. If it was going to win the game, Morocco would have to do so with 10 players on pitch. Foul was not yellow-worthy in my opinion.
Portugal was getting really desperate and throwing numbers into the final 3rd. Five minutes into stoppage time, Morocco played a long pass into the Portugal side with a striker running onto it, but he couldn’t quite get a good foot on shot and hits it weakly at Costa. In their final chance, Pepe’s header on a cross from the left is wide. History is made as Morocco becomes the first African squad to make it to the semi-finals. Ronaldo was crying in the tunnels as he left realizing that his likely final World Cup was another disappointment. – AW
England 1 – 2 France: It’s the English Channel game with England trying to erase over 50 years of World Cup frustration facing off against the defending champs. The Three Lions operate out of a 4-3-3 formation with captain and star Harry Kane as the center striker. Les Bleus create through a 4-3-2-1 formation with Oliver Giroud up top and player of the tournament so far, Killian Mbappe, on the left wing.
France pressed hard on the English defense early. In the 16th minute, France started a counterattack from deep in their own end and the ensuing run moved the ball all over the field stretching the defense. The ball found Mbappe who sent the it wide right to Griezmann, who pus it back to Tchouameni in the middle. From outside the box, the midfielder ripped a shot deep into the left side of the goal through traffic and under a defender’s legs.
Immediately after, England got a free kick outside, but close to the box. On the kick, the Englishmen next to the French wall duck and the shot goes through the hole, but Lloris played it perfectly for the easy save. Minutes later though he was forced to make a great save on a Kane shot. In the 25th minute, Kane got tripped up while dribbling into the box on right side. No foul was called, but there was a VAR review. Turned out that contact was just outside the box, so play was continued. It looked like Kane pushed off before trip in any event.
Lloris made another great save in 28th minute. On the resulting corner, ball is driven into middle of the box where it just sat for several seconds as players on both teams tried to kick it in or out. Finally, Rabiot pulled the ball out to the right and cleared it. Whenever Mbappe got the ball, he received a lot of attention. Clearly England did not want to give him room to create. The half ended with France holding onto the slim 1-nil lead.
Early in the 2nd half, Henderson set up Bellingham to rip a shot, but Lloris just got a hand on it to tip it over for another huge save. There was some confusion in the box on the resulting corner kick before the ball found Lloris. Five minutes in, the hero becomes the heavy as goal scorer Tchouameni tripped up Saka in box. Kane took the penalty kick and blasted it into the top left corner to even things up. No goalie could have stopped that even if they guessed the right direction. Perfectly placed.
On the ensuing kick-off, France dropped a deep pass to Ravio up the middle. He one-timed it, but couldn’t get quite enough on it. A minute later, Mbappe outraced the defense down the left side and played a good cross to the middle of the box, but it didn’t find any of the French strikers. On the other end, England was doing what no French opponent had done in the tourney. Put shots on goal. Lloris had 6 saves already in the 60th minute.
On a set piece in 69th minute, McGuire flicked a header toward the left post, but it was just barely wide, skidding off the post. England really changed the game in the 2nd half, controlling the midfield and finding space for shots. Pickford had his first big save in 76th minute. Giroud one-timed a header, but Pickford dove to his right to punch it out. On the ensuing corner, the ball was cleared out to the French midfield and they pushed it right back to Griezmann on the right side. He delivered what was essentially a second corner kick to the middle of the box. This time, Giroud used his noggin to find the left side of the net. France back on top.
Just minutes later, Hernandez ran through Mount on a cross into box. No foul was called initially, but the VAR review confirmed it. Hernandez got a yellow and England got a PK. Really stupid foul by Hernandez. Kane again took the kick, but it sailed high over the goal and France breathed a sigh of relief. Kane appeared to have let the goalie’s dive alter his plan and he will regret that mistake.
Lot of time lost in the second half with the VAR review and subs. 8 minutes of stoppage time was added. It was desperation time for England. Play was getting really rough, but ref was letting a lot go. In the 99th minute, McGuire was taken down just outside box. On potentially the last chance of the game for England, Rashford’s free kick was just barely high and the final whistle sounded. Lloris was the man of this match, time and time again with the saves and interceptions of crosses into the box. – AW
So the quarterfinals are now set with two former champions, the two finalists from the last World Cup, the first African country to make it this far, perhaps the final go-rounds for superstars Lionel Messi and Luka Modric, and the emergence of the next great star, Killian Mbappe. The semi-finals should be good.