With the dust finally starting to settle after another remarkable 48 hours from Qatar, the World Cup’s final four nations have been decided following some major upsets in the Middle East.
While the likes of Brazil and Portugal might have had their sights firmly set on making more history this winter, both of world football’s elite fell by the wayside in what will long be remembered as two historic upsets.
Likewise, with England suffering more World Cup penalty shootout heartbreak as they eventually slumped to a 2-1 loss against European rivals France on Saturday night, it will be Les Blues, Croatia, Argentian and Morocco who make up the last four countries standing in Qatar.
With the World Cup’s first festive tournament only continuing to produce some huge upsets over the past three weeks, we have taken a look at the five main talking points from this year’s quarter-final showdowns.
Morocco & Croatia shock the world
While Croatia might have fallen at the final hurdle out in Russia four years ago as they suffered heartbreak against France in the final, the Blazers have once again shown that they’re a world footballing powerhouse.
Putting in what was another remarkable World Cup display on Friday as they sent pre-tournament favourites Brazil home early following more penalty shootout drama, the 2018 finalists hold what is a fearsome spot-kick reputation.
Now clinching back-to-back semi-final tickets over the past four years, Croatia could have their sights set on shocking the world once more come December 18th.
Although Croatia might have stolen plenty of the headlines after they extended on their remarkable spot-kick run against Brazil, it was Morocco who received most of the plaudits over the weekend.
Clinching an iconic 1-0 victory against Portugal on Saturday and becoming the first African country to book a World Cup semi-final ticket, Walid Regragui’s men have only continued to gain a reputation for their rugged defensive displays.
Keeping another clean sheet against Portugal on Saturday, Morocco are yet to have a single opposition player breach their goal this winter.
Is it written in the stars for Messi?
Eventually edging their way past Holland over the weekend as they claimed another thrilling penalties victory against the European giants, Argentina have the feel of a nation riding a real wave of momentum.
While the South American legends might have opened their World Cup adventure with an infamous 2-1 loss at the hands of Saudi Arabia on November 22nd, Lionel Scaloni’s men have come roaring back.
Suffering just a single defeat from any of their last 40 straight appearances across all formats, Argentina also have one attacking icon who has continued on a stellar World Cup romp in the Middle East.
Once again finding the net against Holland on Friday and bagging his fourth World Cup strike of the winter, it is starting to seem like it is written in the stars for Lionel Messi to put the cherry on top of his record-breaking career.
Once again showing over the weekend that he is almost single-handily dragging Argentina through this year’s tournament, the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner is desperate to get his hands on the Jules Rimet trophy for the first time.
Ronaldo’s disappointing final display
While one modern-day icon might have continued on a remarkable flurry in Qatar this year, Cristiano Ronaldo has only found himself at the heart of controversy after controversy in Qatar.
Now without a club after finally completing a messy divorce from Manchester United last month, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner was desperate to show what he still has in the tank this month.
However, while the ex-Real Madrid superstar might have spearheaded Portugal’s charge throughout their group stage run, Ronaldo found himself excluded from Fernando Santos’ starting XI over the past week.
Involved in a public battle with Portugal’s long-standing boss and having to settle for a place on the bench against both Switzerland and Morocco, it appears this is the end of the line for the 37-year-old on the world stage.
Mustering just a single strike in Qatar and with many feeling that the former European champions work better without their attacking icon, Ronaldo couldn’t have endured a more frustrating end to this stellar World Cup career.
End of the road for Southgate?
Watching both Portugal and Brazil come crashing out of this year’s tournament before their showdown on Saturday, England would have known that they had been handed a golden chance in Qatar.
However, while the Three Lions might have breezed their way to the quarter-finals after securing a 3-0 victory against Senegal on December 4th, Gareth Southgate’s side will once again be feeling like they missed out on another real opportunity.
Falling short after reaching the World Cup semi-finals out in Russia four years ago, there are many who feel this is the end of the road for Southgate and his tenure.
Enduring a Nations League nightmare earlier in the year and losing their League A status, it was believed that this winter’s World Cup was the chance for Southgate to finally end England’s 54-year wait for a piece of international silverware.
Nevertheless, eventually slumping to a 2-1 loss against Les Bleus over the weekend, Southgate has continued to gain a string of criticism for his defensive approach.
With this seen to be England’s golden generation, the likes of former Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino have been linked as a potential option to replace Southgate over the coming weeks.
France can make real World Cup history in Qatar
Although France might have been heartbroken after seeing both Karim Benzema and Christopher Nkunku withdraw from their squad prior to this year’s World Cup due to respective injury issues, the defending champions haven’t let that dampen their plans.
Likewise, while Les Bleus might have also been without the likes of Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante this winter, Didier Deschamps’ men now have a real chance to make more history in the Middle East.
With the red-hot Kylian Mbappe already mustering five World Cups this year and sitting in pole position to claim the Golden Boot, France are yet to suffer a single defeat in Qatar.
Eventually coming past fellow European heavyweights England on Saturday night following their dramatic 2-1 victory, Deschamps’ superstars are now just two games away from defending their world crown.
Handed the chance to become the first country in almost six decades to claim back-to-back world titles, France should now find the mood in their camp at a red-hot high before their semi-final showdown against Morocco on Wednesday night.
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