World Cup: France, Morocco, Argentina and Croatia get ready for the semi-finals
The four teams are still riding high after their respective wins in the World Cup quarter-finals, but anticipation is already building ahead of the next step: the semis on Tuesday and Wednesday. Croatia will attempt to reach its second World Cup final in as many competitions, and Morocco is looking to continue its historic run after it became the first African team and the first Arab team to ever make it to the final four.
Defending champions France edged England 2-1 on Saturday as Harry Kane missed a late penalty in the World Cup quarter-finals, after Morocco became the first African team ever to reach the semi-finals.
France will face the surprising North Africans on Wednesday, earning their place when Olivier Giroud’s header proved the difference at Al Bayt Stadium.
In a tense match, Aurélien Tchouaméni’s strike opened the scoring with 17 minutes gone, but Kane brought England level from the penalty spot early in the second half.
England were the best side for large parts of the match but Giroud scored when it mattered most, rising above Harry Maguire to nod the ball into the net on 78 minutes for his 53rd goal for France.
As England desperately searched for an equaliser, they were thrown a late lifeline when Theo Hernandez needlessly shoved over Mason Mount and the referee gave a spot-kick following a VAR review.
But Kane blasted his kick high over the crossbar, spurning the chance to send the game into extra time. He was the first England player to sink to his knees at the final whistle, his head in his hands.
“We gave them a little ammunition with two penalties, but it is with hearts and guts that we held on to this result,” France manager Didier Deschamps said. “It’s fabulous because it was a big match against a very good English team.”
“We responded once again, it’s wonderful to reach the last four again, you have to savour it, a World Cup semi-final is quite something.”
England manager Gareth Southgate said he had told his players, “I don’t think they could have given any more”.
“They’ve played really well against a top team. It’s fine margins and things at both ends that have decided the game,” Southgate added.
Morocco make World Cup history
Only the most fervent Morocco fan would have bet on their side reaching the World Cup semi-finals before the tournament kicked off.
On Saturday, they beat Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal 1-0 thanks to Youssef En-Nesyri’s first-half header to go further than any African team ever has at a World Cup.
Morocco, ranked 22 in the world before the tournament started, have surpassed the three other African sides to reach the quarter-finals – Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010.
Ronaldo, who came on as a second-half substitute, was unable to rescue his side and at the final whistle walked off down the tunnel wiping away tears without acknowledging either his teammates or the victorious Moroccans.
Ronaldo, 37, who with Lionel Messi has dominated world football for the past two decades, has likely played his last World Cup match after making a world record-equalling 196th international appearance at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha.
The Moroccans have wildly surpassed expectations in Qatar and coach Walid Regragui lauded the battling spirit of his injury-hit side.
“We’re drawing on all we have, we still have guys injured. I told the guys before the match we had to write history for Africa. I’m very, very happy,” Regragui said.
As their national team made history, crowds gathered in Casablanca and chanted “Qualified! Qualified!”
There were also celebrations across the Arab world and in Europe as Morocco are also the first Arab team to reach a World Cup semi-final.
“My heart will stop, what a team, what stamina, what an achievement,” Ilham El Idrissi, a 34-year-old woman, told AFP in Casablanca.
Argentina and Croatia go head-to-head on Tuesday
Argentina and Lionel Messi will face 2018 finalists Croatia in the other semi-final after the Croatians dumped out pre-tournament favourites Brazil on Friday.
The five-time champions crashed out in dramatic fashion, losing on penalties after a 1-1 draw, while Argentina survived a fightback from the Netherlands to also win in a shootout.
Brazil star Neymar said he was contemplating retiring from international football after the crushing loss, but on Saturday Brazilian legend Pele urged him to “keep inspiring us”.
“I’m 82 years old, and after all this time, I hope I’ve inspired you in some way to get this far… Your legacy is far from over,” Pele wrote on Instagram.
Neymar had equalled Pele’s official Brazil scoring record of 77 international goals in Friday’s match.