By Sarafina Napoleon
Sarafina Napoleon is from Nigeria and is a first-year graduate student in Sport Administration at BGSU. As a journalist for 9 years, she brings a wealth of experience and insight to the Maxwell Media Watch.
We’re getting close to the climax of the 2022 FIFA World Cup which has already seen 158 goals scored, a record-breaking 88,966 spectators (at one game between Argentina and Mexico), 20+ yellow cards, and 5 red cards throughout 60 matches. There have been shocks, records broken, history made, heartbreaks, and ecstasies, and now there are only four teams left. Three continents, Africa, Europe, and South America, compete for the most coveted soccer trophy in the world.
One more victory would guarantee the four semifinalists a shot at immortality. To advance to the 2022 World Cup final, Morocco, who represents Africa, Argentina from South America, France, and Croatia from Europe, must defeat their opponents when they take the field on Tuesday and Wednesday. Every soccer fan is waiting with bated breath and high anticipation for the semifinal matches, which will see Argentina take on Croatia and France play Morocco.
Before the tournament, the French national team was hit with injuries that limited their chances of defending the title. Players like Paul Pogba, Ngolo Kante, and Presnel Kimpembe were all ruled out. To make matters worse, Christopher Nkunku, who was in the form of his life, and Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema picked up injuries. The defending champions were drawn alongside Denmark, Tunisia, and Australia and were the first team to qualify for the round of 16 after two games. After qualification, the les blues were expected to get past Poland in the round of 16 which they did. Then came the next test against the Three Lions of England at the quarterfinal stage, and the defending champions rose to the occasion and sent England packing. The team is now one game away from retaining the title. On paper, the les blues shouldn’t have any problems dispatching their next opponent Morocco on Wednesday but considering what we have been served at the ongoing World Cup, an upset shouldn’t be ruled out. The team has relied on their attacking prowess since the start of the tournament with four different goal scorers. The tournament’s top scorer Kylian Mbappé with five goals and two assists, and Olivier Giroud, with four goals, have been the team’s saving grace. Also, France has never lost a World Cup match that Kylian Mbappé has started. Should the team defend the title, these two players must deliver another masterclass performance against Morocco.
Kylian Mbappé (right) celebrates with Olivier Giroud.
One advantage the les blues have heading into the semifinal clash is the experience of their manager Didier Deschamps. Four years ago, he became only the third man to win the sport’s most cherished title as a player and a coach. Deschamps has won 13 games at the World Cup, putting him in third place all-time behind only Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari with 14 wins and West German Helmut Schon with 16 wins. One apparent weakness in the French team is the lack of discipline, which was evident in the game against England, giving away two cheap penalties. The team’s inability to kill off games and defensive frailties are other loopholes that could be detrimental to their quest. Can France become the first team in 60 years to win two consecutive World Cups?
It took Morocco years of careful planning and focused effort to accomplish victory. An effort was made to raise the quality of the local league. Wydad Athletic Club of Morocco, who play in the Moroccan league, are the reigning Caf Champions League champions. In 2022, Morocco hosted and advanced to the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations finals, where they defeated perennial powerhouse Nigeria in the process. Some current squad members are mainstays at some of Europe’s most prestigious clubs. While the Atlas Lions may lack the jaw-dropping individual talents of the les blues, they make up for it with a strong sense of teamwork and know-how. The North African club must avoid falling victim to schoolboy errors if they hope to defeat the current champions.
After a devastating opening-round loss to Saudi Arabia, Argentina’s status as one of the favorites to win the 2022 World Cup plummeted. The team eventually made it out of the group and had to overcome the United States and the Netherlands to secure a semifinal place against Croatia. Argentina will be seeking retribution after being humiliated by Croatia in their previous match in 2018 by a 3-0 scoreline. Argentina has never lost in the World Cup semifinals and has advanced to the final each time they have reached this stage. Their most recent appearance was in 2014, when they lost in the final to Germany.
Team captain Messi has been in scintillating form for the La Albiceleste with four goals and two assists, equaling the record of Gabriel Batistuta for most goals at the World Cup. Messi looks pumped to win the World Cup, but they must get past a dogged opposition in Croatia. After Antoine Griezmann’s 17, Lionel Messi has created 16 scoring opportunities in the 2022 World Cup. For Messi to clinch the holy grail, his teammates must avoid profligacy against Croatia.
The 2018 finalists are on the verge of making it to two consecutive World Cup finals, joining the likes of Italy, Netherlands, and Germany. Still, they face stiffer opposition from Messi-led Argentina. Luka Modric and his teammates will be looking to become the first team to play in consecutive finals for the first time in twenty years. The Vatreni ensured the elimination of the samba boys setting up a date with another South American team. Croatia had to rely on penalty shootouts to get past the round of 16 and quarterfinal stages.
Croatia has just one win in regulation time after five games played at the 2022 World Cup with a 100% penalty shootout record against Japan and Brazil. They have successfully reached extra time in five of their last six World Cup knockout matches. The Croatians might not be a free-scoring side, but they do know how to frustrate the opposition with their defensive formation as they did against Brazil.
Fine margins will determine the semifinal fixtures, and only the team with the mental capacity and concentration will make it to the final.