One of the most prestigious sporting event in the world, rivalling only the Olympics in glory and glam, the FIFA World Cup 2022, is now down to the Final Four. Played in the dazzling, awe-inspiring Qatar, there should be no more talks of how this kingdom won the controversial bid for this edition of the World Cup. No more complaints on the lack of beer in the stands, or other restrictions in this oasis in the desert. No more talks of rights or the lack thereof in the land. From hereon, let the show on the turf speak for itself, with all the drama, the excitement, the ooohs and the ahhhs as our last four gladiators do battle.
Favored Argentina and underdog Croatia drew first blood last Friday, December 9, both via penalty kick-offs. Argentina nudged out the Netherlands 4-3, while Croatia created the biggest uproar with a huge upset win over top-seeded Brazil 4-2. The defending champions France and giant-killing Morocco followed suit the following day, Saturday, December 10. France outlasted an equally-determined England 2-1, while crowd-favorite Morocco bundled out Cristiano Ronaldo and the Portuguese side 1-0.
So now, it’s 4th seeded Argentina vs 16th seeded Croatia; 3rd seeded France against 24th seeded Morocco in the Final Four. Two Euro standouts doing battle against a traditional heavy from the Americas, and a first-time ever semifinalist from Africa.
Two football icons will meet for what could be their last hurrah in the World Cup: Lionel Messi and Luka Modric. For Messi (35 years old) and Modric (37 years old), this could be their last opportunity to win the elusive Cup, the only big prize missing in both their resumes. The 2 stars have so many similarities: they have the same initials (LM), they both sport the same number (10); both are Ballon d’Or winners; both have lost in different World Cup Finals (Messi in 2014, Modric in 2018) but have ended up being awarded the Golden Ball as the best player of the tournament. As Captains, both are acknowledged as the leaders of their respective teams.
But their styles are completely different, with Argentina taking on the persona of their star forward, Messi; while the Modric imprint in the Croats’ midfield is very clear. Argentina plays with an exciting offensive flair, with Messi leading the charge. It will be tested by a prodding, almost boring, yet effective midfield play orchestrated by a patient Modric that will produce occasional offensive jabs when you least expect it.
The defending champs, Les Blues of France, are heavily favored in their match against the Moroccans. They have the talent, the coaching and the championship experience from the latest World Cup and the grueling Euro league wars. Led by the sensational Kylian Mbappe, leading candidate for the Golden Boot Award (with 5 goals at present), Les Blues play a balanced game of offense and defense. The team is so rich in talent that it could afford to lose to lowly Tunisia in the group stage, playing their substitutes while resting their key players for the big games ahead.
The Moroccans, on the other hand, will be cheered on by a rabid hometown crowd for being the first African team to reach the semis; the first Arab country to do so; and for being the lowest ranked team still standing. This underdog’s entry to the semis is no fluke though. They have the stingiest defense among all the participating teams, with only a goal by Canada in the group stage allowed. They may not have as much talent or experience, but they play cohesively and their confidence has slowly but surely grown with wins against 2nd ranked Belgium, 7th ranked Spain and finally, 8th ranked Portugal to reach the semis. And most importantly, they believe that they can go even higher than that.
Argentina against Croatia. France against Morocco. I’ve got Modric messing up Messi, and I’m rooting for Morocco to mow down France. Who you got?
For a clearer view, just click on the pics. Cover photo courtesy of Express & Star. Other photos, courtesy of Sporting News, BBC, The Mirror, Arab News, EWN, KPCC, India TV News, KoreaTimes, New York Times, PSG Talk, Stadium Astro, YouTube, Punch Newspapers, and SportsNet.