Argentina 3 – 0 Croatia
In the quarterfinals, Croatia knocked off one South American powerhouse. Can they do it again? Argentina is looking to nail the elusive world championship that is the one thing missing from Leo Messi’s stellar career and they’ve never lost a World Cup semi-final game. Will history repeat for them?
Argentina opens with a 4-4-2 formation. They’ve been playing in a number of different formations throughout the Cup, but have come back to the 4-4-2 with Messi and Alvarez up top. Croatia is still in their 4-3-3 that they’ve started with in every game of the tournament. The Perisic-Modric combo on the left side has played very well so far.
Argentina had an early opportunity for Tagliafico making a run into the left side of the box to catch up to long pass, but it was just a little too far beyond him and Livakovic got there first. Messi complained about a no-call after he got tripped up just outside of the box. However, he would not have caught up to the pass anyway, so no harm done. Minutes later, Messi seemed to be massaging his leg, causing speculation of an injury, but followed with some fancy dribbling and passing, so all the worry was for naught. However, Croatia controlled the midfield fairly well early on.
Midway through the first half, Fernandez fired a curling shot from distance that Livakovic had to save, the first good shot of the game. About 30 minutes in, a great pass through, led to an Alvarez breakaway at the goal. He flicked the ball over the onrushing Livakovic, just before they collided. Alvarez got no oomph on the ball and a defender cleared it. However, a foul was called on Livakovic for the collision, though he was just reacting to ball and not trying to take out Alvarez. Messi took the penalty kick and made sure there was no doubt, blasting it into the upper right corner. Croatia was behind, but this was a familiar position for them.
Several minutes later, a quick counterattack by Argentina after a poor Croatian corner got nudged up to Alvarez in the middle of the field. Despite two converging defenders, he maintained control into the box and then got a lucky bounce off a defender and was able to flick it by Livakovic for a second goal. All Croatia’s good possession work early on had gone out the window.
Argentina nearly had a 3rd goal several minutes later with ball deflecting of Croatian arm in the box. No handball was called though it looked like it should have been. A great header on the ensuing corner forced Livakovic to make a great save and led to yet another corner. This time Livakovic was forced to punch out Messi’s great corner into the middle of box. Croatia’s defense was really on its heels before the half mercifully came to an end.
Croatia started the 2nd half with a couple of subs, Vlasic in the midfield and Orsic at striker, designed to add some offense. They had an almost impossible job ahead of them.
10 minutes into the 2nd half, Argentina had several really good opportunities, but one was broken up by the Croatia defense and the other had Livakovic stopping a Messi shot that he couldn’t fully connect with. Argentina was making good use of long passes out of pressure in their own end.
In the 61st minute, Modric’s in-swinging corner gets to Lovren’s head in the box. He actually had two opportunities, but Olomendi finally cleared it. Argentina was dropping one of the midfielders as a fifth fullback at this point.
Despite the more defensive formation, Argentina continued to make runs. In the 69th minute, Messi made a run down the right side into the box and then dribbled circles around Gvardiol before dropping a deft pass to Alvarez who had a point-blank easy shot for goal. With 20 minutes left and a three-goal lead, the game is effectively finished.
Croatia got a free kick 73 minutes in from about 15 yards outside of box. Perisic put a low screamer through a poorly formed wall, but Martinez was there to make his first save of the night. A couple of minutes later, Perisic attempts another shot from 30 yards out, but sailed way high. Then it was Orsic’s turn. After some nifty dribbling inside the Argentine box, he also shot high (and wide). Croatia simply wasn’t taking good shots all day long.
In what amounted to a concession, Croatia subbed out star Luka Modric in the 81st minute. Argentina did a much better job controlling possession in the second half.
Argentina had yet another opportunity in the 82nd minute, but MacAllister pushed it just wide right. A couple of minutes later, Perisic had a really great back flick header off of Majer’s corner into the middle of box. Two of his teammates just barely missed being able to run onto it for potential easy goal. Another lost Croatian opportunity. With time running out, Croatia created a few more opportunities, but it was nothing that Martinez couldn’t handle.
Argentina’s win meant Messi will set the record for most World Cup games played in Sunday’s final. It has been 36 years since Argentina’s last championship and eight years since they lost the 2014 final to Germany. Can Argentina win one for the great Messi? – AW
France 2 – 0 Morocco
This is exactly where France was supposed to be—trying to repeat as champion—and is not where anyone expected Morocco to be. Morocco is carrying the weight and support of both Africa and the Middle East into this game. France seeks to join fellow two-time winner Argentina in the final and become the first nation to repeat since Brazil in 1962.
France comes out in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Giroud up top being supported by Mbappe, Griezmann, and Dembele, a formidable front line. Morocco was taking no chances with its heavily defensive 5-4-1. En-Nesyri was the sole man up top.
After the tip-off, it took just a few minutes for France to get on the board. On the first real attack of the game, the Griezmann played through to a cutting Mbappe into the box. Centering attempts went poorly, but the ball rebounded out to the left side where Theo Hernandez sat alone. As the ball bounced high, Hernandez did a leaping high left kick to get over the ball and direct it down past the goalie into the net. Morocco was behind for the first time in the tournament.
In the 10th minute, Morocco almost struck back as Ouahi fired a long curling shot at the right side of the net. Lloris had to dive to keep it out. Then, Morocco sprung a good counterattack in the 16th minute, but the left-footed Ziyech had the ball on the right side and couldn’t get a good shot off. Almost immediately, France pushed the ball ahead to Giroud running down the left side unimpeded. He turned toward the goal and struck a blazing left-footer off the left post.
Morocco captain and defender Saiss left the quarterfinal match with a hamstring injury. He only made it through the first 20 minutes of this semi before he had to ask out of the game. With Morocco already behind, they replaced him with a midfielder, Amallah.
Hernandez was making a lot of runs out of the defensive backfield for France, but was getting beat up in the process and taken down several times midway through the first half. The first time results in a yellow card for Boufal and Hernandez had to stay down for a while. The second time should have resulted in a yellow card for Dari, who basically stepped on Hernandez’s shin, but the ref apparently didn’t see it.
In the 35th minute, France got two good opportunities. First Griezmann centered through past Giroud to Fofana, but he hit it high. Then a great playthrough to Mbappe on the left, but his shot was blocked and bounced out to midfield, where Hernandez immediately played it right back into the box to Giroud, whose one-timer sailed wide and high left. Morocco was actually controlling possession early on in the game, but as the half went on, France began to dominate and placed a lot of pressure on the Moroccan defense.
A Moroccan corner kick in the 44th minute was headed out, but El Yamiq at the edge of box bicycle kicked a shot at left corner of net. Lloris barely got a hand on it, though it might have hit post anyway. A minute later, another Moroccan corner by Ziyech came down in the middle of box where a Moroccan player sailed high to head it. Once again, Lloris was again able to get a hand on it and push it out, before falling on it. A minute later, a Boufal foul gave Morocco a free kick. Ziyech’s kick came down in the box and forced Lloris to punch out. One final Ziyech free kick before the half ended was put over the defense, but just beyond the on-rushing Amallah. Morocco really ended the half with momentum. Only down one goal, they had to feel pretty good going into the 2nd half.
A couple of minutes into the 2nd half, Mbappe did his magic down the left side to the end line. However, his centering pass was behind the attackers. A minute later, a through pass to Mbappe was just beyond his reach. He tried to draw a foul, but the ref wasn’t having it. A few minutes later, Mbappe was taken down by Amrabat just outside the box by the end line. Again, no foul was called and Mbappe seemed to have hurt his ankle and had to go to the sideline.
While Mbappe was off the pitch, Morocco pushed the attack down the right side and got a good center from Hakimi that Varane just barely beat En-Nesyri to. Morocco immediately pushed another attack, where Boufal also can’t get his center to a striker. A few minutes later, another Moroccan attack found Hakimi in the middle but he was unable to turn to make the shot in time. Morocco was overloading the left side, where they pushed a couple more attacks. Time and again though, their centering passes could not find a Moroccan foot. Nevertheless, Morocco seemed to have taken control of this game and the French defense was a bit on its heels. The French defense was fortunate that Moroccan passes were not finding targets.
France finally was able to push an attack in the 68th minute off a free kick from left sideline. Griezemann’s kick was wide right, but was pushed back into Mbappe, who made some moves, but has his shot was blocked. Thuram was taken down a minute later by while on another run. Griezman’s kick from 10 yards outside the box was a little wide to the right and Thuram couldn’t quite direct the header on goal. France seemed to have turned the tide, with yet another Thuram run down the left. He pushed a through ball, but the shot was wide left.
In the 79th minute, another attack by France down the left featured a Mbappe-Thuram give and go. Mbappe dribbled through several defenders in the box and fired a shot that was deflected. However, it worked as a crossing pass to Muani who literally had just subbed into the game. Muani who beat the defender to the ball and buried the point-blank shot. Mbappe basically drew so much of the Moroccan defense that Muani was lost in the shuffle.
The match was basically over at this point. Morocco tried to press, but couldn’t string passes, while France was playing keep away. Mbappe had a nice nutmeg in the midfield and tried to go solo, but a defender was able to tackle the ball away.
Morocco’s last gasp came three minutes into stoppage time as Attiyat-Allah’s strong run toward the left post and good center resulted in shot that couldn’t get through defense, but the defense couldn’t clear either. Ounahi struck a half-volley that was blocked by Hernandez. The ball got kicked around a bit in front of net before Kounde’s clear finally comes. The final whistle sounded shortly thereafter. – AW
France is returning to defend its World Cup title. This final is really no surprise. France and Argentina were two of the three pre-Cup favorites. Messi and Mbappe are neck-and-neck for both the Golden Boot and Golden Ball. Whoever’s team wins the final is likely to net the Golden Ball MVP award. They are currently tied in the Golden Boot race for top scorer with five goals apiece. Sunday’s final should be a doozy.