Lionel Messi‘s Argentina clinched their spot in the 2022 World Cup final after beating Croatia. They’ll meet the winner of France vs. Morocco, who face off on Dec. 14 at 2 p.m. ET.
Be sure to check in with ESPN throughout the tournament as we bring you the latest from Qatar. Here’s what you might have missed from Tuesday’s World Cup happenings, and a look ahead to tomorrow’s action.
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Messi is one game away from lifting World Cup
The Argentina captain is one win away from winning the World Cup trophy and cementing his status as the greatest to ever play the game. The one title that has eluded Messi, that sets him apart from so many of the greats who have come before him, is his for the taking on Dec. 18.
Early in the game against against Croatia, it seemed he might have pulled his hamstring, but all doubts were put to the side when he orchestrated his country to glory, first with a penalty smashed high into the right corner and then with a dazzling, trademark run against one of the tournament’s best defenders, Josko Gvardiol, to set up Julian Alvarez for his second goal of the night.
And he broke records doing it: the oldest man to score five goals at a single World Cup and Argentina’s top scorer at the World Cup. It’s Messi’s last dance, and we’re all lucky to witness it. There will always be comparisons to Maradona, the magical left foot, the hand of God, the mazy runs. If Messi can win the World Cup, it will be difficult to argue with those comparisons.
Messi is delivering masterclass after masterclass in Qatar, while Argentina fans around the world celebrate being one step closer to glory.
Are you not entertained?
Craig Burley is full of praise for Morocco’s performance and resilience after they become the first African team to make it to a World Cup semifinal.
Can Morocco keep their dream alive, or will France prove too much?
The north African nation have surprised everyone after topping their group and then knocking Spain and Portugal out of the World Cup. Morocco’s coach, Walid Regragui, only joined in August and there was no pressure to excel in Qatar. Now, the World Cup dream is all that fans in the country and across the Arab world are hoping for.
As the first African nation to reach the semifinals of the World Cup, Morocco’s Cinderella story showcases their talent, fighting spirit and grit. Azzedine Ounahi is integral to the midfield creativity. Sofyan Amrabat is the enforcer, shutting down any sniff the opposition might have of attacking. Meanwhile, Achraf Hakimi and Hakim Ziyech are two superstars who can unlock the game from the wings. Given Morocco’s run, France will do well not to underestimate Regragui’s side.
Then there is also the support behind Morocco, making it essentially a “home tournament” for them. Thousands of Moroccans are traveling to Doha for the semifinal, while fans from across the Middle East and Africa root them on. Could that be the X-factor to push them past the French?
France have been here before, and won, in 2018. They boast one of the best players in the world in Kylian Mbappe, a versatile No. 10 in Antoine Griezmann and their country’s all-time top scorer in Olivier Giroud. Against England, Didier Deschamps’ were outplayed, but still pulled through, a testament to their depth.
Sure, France go into this semifinal as the favorites because of their star power and experience, but if they have learned anything from this tournament, they’ll know not to fall into the trap of complacency against so-called “underdogs.”
Mark Ogden gives his analysis on the best players in Qatar so far.
Today’s top reads
Morocco’s football fairy tale: How Regragui has brought the Atlas Lions together
Ahead of Wednesday’s second semifinals we have a pair of reads on Morocco, who are the story of the World Cup (no offense, Messi). First, Julien Laurens looked at Walid Regragui, their mercurial coach and his roots in France.
Yassine ‘Bono’ Bounou embodies the humility and spirit of Morocco’s magical World Cup run
Second, ESPN’s LaLiga writer Graham Hunter profiles Morocco’s magical goalkeeper, Yassine Bounou, whose heroics and layered family history sum up the brilliance of his national team and the Moroccan diaspora.
A tribute to Grant Wahl and his legacy in the soccer world
We end top reads on a bittersweet note: ESPN’s Luis Miguel Echegaray wrote a touching essay about his close friend, Grant Wahl, following the US soccer journalist’s shocking death in Doha at Friday’s Argentina vs. Netherlands quarterfinal.
Your best bets (odds via Caesars Sportsbook)
If you’re looking to bet on the World Cup, ESPN contributors Paul Carr, Daniel Thomas and Dalen Cuff are here to give you key tips on odds, options and futures. Here’s what we have for Wednesday’s semifinal.
Morocco (+625) vs. France (-200), Draw (+285)
Paul Carr: Similar to the other semifinal, the value is on the underdog here. France will have more of the ball and probably outshoot Morocco at least 2-to-1, but Morocco’s fine with that, looking to capitalize on a handful of good counter-attacking opportunities. Even with the questions about the health of Morocco’s back line, they have better than a 1-in-4 chance of holding on and at least getting to extra time. I prefer to play Morocco to advance at anything north of +300, and I like the price on the draw here too (+285) if the other prices are lower.
Dalen Cuff: You’ll get no argument from me on Paul’s analysis above. As good as Morocco has been defensively (only one goal conceded — an own goal, no less), I like the over here. They’re a little banged up and France has shown the ability to score. Conversely, France has been scored on in every match and looks shaky at the back. Les Bleus will have the lion’s share of the ball, which Morocco is fine with as they’ll manufacture some solid counter-opps in this match. The Atlas Lions have been good at capitalizing on relatively few scoring chances in each match. I’ll go with over 2.5 goals at +125.
Daniel Thomas: Blooming heck, wouldn’t it the absolute epitome of this World Cup if Morocco would knock out the defending champions? France weren’t great against England but they have the attacking potential to pick apart even the sternest of defenses. I really like Antoine Griezmann with an “anytime assist” at +240.
News and notes
We know that the World Cup is a battle of national teams, but players have to go back to their clubs when all’s said and done, and it’s nice to see a bit of togetherness following England’s quarterfinal loss to France. Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris told the media Tuesday that he texted his club teammate, England striker Harry Kane, following Saturday’s defeat in which Kane missed a penalty. “It’s a difficult time for the England national team and Harry… I don’t need to go too much further. We had a text [exchange] after the game. It was not easy to find the words. He needed some time to rest, but I think he can be proud of what he has done for the national team.”
From one Brazil legend to another: Ronaldo Nazario cautioned that Neymar needs some psychological supports to help manage the “disproportionate pressure” of trying to win the World Cup.
Well done, Lionel Messi! He’s now preparing for another World Cup final and will do so as Argentina’s all-time leading scorer at the World Cup, with his penalty vs. Croatia his 11th goal at this competition. PHEW.
And finally, another England read. Remember how good Harry Maguire was during the Three Lions’ run to the quarterfinals? Well his club manager, Man United’s Erik ten Hag, certainly spotted it and is hoping that the defender’s form comes back with him from Qatar. “It’s clear he is good enough to play at the highest level,” Ten Hag said at United’s training camp in Spain. “We want him to bring that back to Manchester with him so he can bring it on the pitch for United.
What’s on tomorrow
France vs. Morocco (2p ET): This is it! The second semifinal pits Kylian Mbappe & Co. against the World Cup’s pre-eminent Cinderella story. Who will advance?