England are on their way home after a dramatic weekend of upsets and action in the World Cup quarterfinals.
The Three Lions suffered a defeat to France on Saturday, ending hopes of finally winning a second World Cup. Meanwhile, Morocco made history and shocked everyone by overcoming Portugal.
On Friday, Croatia outlasted Brazil in a tense affair, whilst the Netherlands and Argentina played out an incredible game of knockout football.
Croatia 1-1 Brazil (Croatia win on penalties)
An inspired performance from Croatia saw them upset one of the World Cup favourites, Brazil, in the opening match of the quarterfinals.
Throughout the first half, the 2018 finalists frustrated their opponents. Brazil did not have as much space to work with as in the South Korea game as a result. In fact, Croatia’s energetic midfield three stifled Neymar, not allowing the Selecao’s talisman to link up with the front three easily.
Vinicius Jr’s blocked effort proved Brazil’s best half-chance of a first half where Croatia controlled possession.
In contrast, Tite’s side upped the ante following the interval. Neymar, now playing much closer to Richarlison, had numerous shooting opportunities thanks to his advanced position. However, Livakovic was equal to near-identical chances where the PSG star shot with his left foot.
In extra-time, a sublime piece of interplay from Brazil’s No.10 finally broke the deadlock. Picking up the ball, Neymar played one-twos with Rodrygo and Lucas Paqueta as he ran at Croatia’s penalty area. He then had the composure to go round Livakovic before lifting the ball into the roof of the net.
Could Brazil beat a European side in a World Cup knockout game for the first time since 2002? Unfortunately, Croatia were not ready to roll over yet.
With just three minutes of extra time left, Croatia equalised. Brazil got caught with too many players forward, so Croatia launched a counterattack. Mislav Orsic’s cutback then found Bruno Petkovic, who slotted the ball home via a deflection.
Zlatko Dalic’s men held their nerve in the following penalty shootout, scoring all four spot-kicks. Meanwhile, misses from Rodrygo and Marquinhos meant Brazil will have to wait until 2026 to try and get their sixth World Cup.
Netherlands 2-2 Argentina (Argentina win on penalties)
Feisty. Frantic. Controversial. The Netherlands and Argentina played a World Cup classic on Friday night, but it was the Albiceleste who emerged victorious from the battle.
On the face of it, Lionel Scaloni’s side should have had a more comfortable evening. They proved good value for their 1-0 lead at the break, having created numerous chances during the first half.
Nahuel Molina got the goal, poking the ball home following a wonderful, disguised through-ball from Lionel Messi.
However, consistent fouls threatened to overshadow the game. Referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz gave an unbelievable 48 fouls – causing anger on both sides.
He was also not afraid to dish out cards, either. Both teams received a pair of yellow cards each in the first half, and 14 in total throughout the game. But interestingly, Lionel Messi did not get one for a blatant handball on the halfway line.
The Argentina captain did give his side a 2-0 lead on 73 minutes, though. After Denzel Dumfries fouled Marcos Acuna, Messi coolly dispatched a penalty to double the Albiceleste’s advantage.
In response, the Netherlands went super-direct and old-fashioned. Their tall attack proved too much for Argentina to deal with as Wout Weghorst headed them back into the game. Then, in the dying embers of ten added minutes, Weghorst dramatically grabbed his second following an inspired free-kick play.
Tempers flared in both injury time and the extra time periods, as Leandro Paredes’ antics caused a scuffle with the Netherlands bench. Unfortunately, though, neither side could find a winner during the extra thirty minutes.
In the shootout, Virgil van Dijk and Steven Berghuis’ missed penalties really hampered any chance of victory. Lautaro Martinez ultimately put away the deciding spot-kick, sending Argentina through to the last four.
Morocco 1-0 Portugal
Morocco became the first-ever African side to reach the last four of a World Cup by producing the shock of the quarterfinals.
Having given everything to beat Spain in the previous round, many expected the Portugal game to be a step too far. How wrong we were.
Portugal, who still had Ronaldo on the bench, enjoyed the run of play in the opening phases. Joao Felix had two great opportunities, forcing a save from Bono with a header before nearly scoring with a deflected strike.
Despite this, Morocco caused their opponent problems, which culminated in a goal just past forty minutes.
A high, hanging cross from Yahia Attiyat Allah created panic in the Portugal box. Sevilla’s Youssef En-Nesyri rose highest to meet the ball, then powered it into the net. Fernando Santos’ side needed to find a goal after the break to avoid going home as a result.
Although Portugal threw caution to the wind, they needed to be wary of Morocco’s continued threat. This became more obvious when Jawad El-Yamiq should have scored his side’s second goal from a Hakim Ziyech free kick.
Down the other end, though, Portugal’s relentless pressure could still not find a way past Bono. Goncalo Ramos forced a header wide, meanwhile, Bruno Fernandes fizzed a shot just over the bar. Ronaldo also had a chance, with his low strike handled well by the Morocco keeper.
The European side had extra help to force extra time with eight minutes added on to the 90. In addition, a late Walid Cheddira red card offered some hope.
And yet it wasn’t to be for Cristiano Ronaldo and co., as Pepe headed the final chance wide. They now return home from what will surely be their captain’s last World Cup.
England 1-2 France
Finally, rounding out an epic set of quarterfinals was more World Cup heartbreak for England. Reigning champions France took a 2-1 win, despite the Three Lions’ spirited performance.
Les Bleus started the game looking much more suited to the occasion, stifling England with their organisation but looking dangerous on the counter. This proved England’s undoing as France took an early lead.
A questionable tackle on Bukayo Saka saw the Three Lions surrender possession. From here, France raced to the England box before Antoine Griezmann rolled the ball to Aurelien Tchouameni. His long-range strike fizzed into the bottom corner, giving France a 1-0 advantage at half-time.
But England did not take long to respond following the break. The impressive Saka drew a clear foul in the box which the referee could not miss. Harry Kane then fired in the resulting penalty, putting Gareth Southgate’s side level once more.
Both sides could have taken the lead just after, as Adrien Rabiot tested Jordan Pickford with a shot almost immediately from the French kick-off. Similarly, Harry Maguire almost put England ahead when he grazed the post with a header.
France turned up the heat while trying to restore their advantage, with their pressure eventually paying off. A Griezmann cross found Olivier Giroud unmarked, who duly headed home to make it 2-1.
England were not finished yet, though. When Theo Hernandez barged Mason Mount in the back, the Three Lions had another penalty. But Harry Kane, typically so reliable from the spot, fired his second spot-kick over the bar, missing a golden opportunity to equalise.
Gareth Southgate’s men could not find a second goal and thus come home from Qatar earlier than they would have liked. In contrast, France advance to face Morocco.
How the World Cup looks following the quarterfinals
Semi-final 1: Argentina v Croatia: Tuesday 13 December, 7pm kick-off
Semi-final 2: France v Morocco: Wednesday 14 December, 7pm kick-off
Featured image credit: Getty