Lionel Messi’s Argentina secured their place in the 2022 World Cup final after beating Croatia. They meet the winner of France against Morocco, who meet at 14:00 ET on December 14th.
Be sure to check back on ESPN during the tournament as we bring you the latest from Qatar. Here’s what you may have missed from Tuesday’s World Cup events and a preview of tomorrow’s action.
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Messi is just one game away from winning the World Cup
The Argentina captain is just one win away from lifting the World Cup and cementing his status as the greatest of all time. The only title that has eluded Messi and sets him apart from so many of the greats before him is his title, which he will win on December 18.
Early in the game against Croatia it seemed like he had torn a hamstring but all doubt was pushed aside as he orchestrated his country to glory, first with a penalty smashed high into the right corner and then with a blinding trademark run against one of the tournament’s best defenders, Josko Gvardiol, to set up Julian Alvarez for his second goal of the evening.
And he broke records: the oldest man to score five goals in 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 be there. There will always be comparisons to Maradona, the magical left foot, the hand of God, the labyrinthine runs. If Messi can win the World Cup then these comparisons will be difficult to argue with.
Messi delivers masterclass after masterclass in Qatar as Argentinian fans around the world celebrate being one step closer to stardom.
Aren’t you entertained?
Craig Burley is full of praise for Morocco’s performance and resilience after becoming the first African team to reach a World Cup semi-final.
Can Morocco keep its dream alive or will France prove too much?
The North African nation surprised everyone after topping their group and then knocking out Spain and Portugal from the World Cup. Morocco coach Walid Regragui only joined in August and there was no pressure to perform in Qatar. Now the World Cup dream is all fans in the country and across the Arab world are hoping for.
As the first African nation to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup, Morocco’s Cinderella story showcases their talent, fighting spirit and determination. Azzedine Ounahi is an integral part of midfield creativity. Sofyan Amrabat is the enforcer who stops any attack by the opposition. Meanwhile, Achraf Hakimi and Hakim Ziyech are two superstars who can unlock the game from the wings. Given the Moroccan run, France would do well not to underestimate the Regragui side.
Then there’s the support behind Morocco, making it essentially a “home tournament” for them. Thousands of Moroccans travel to Doha for the semi-finals as fans from the Middle East and Africa cheer for them. Could that be the X factor to push them past the French?
France have been here before and won in 2018. They have one of the best players in the world in Kylian Mbappe, a versatile No10 in Antoine Griezmann and their country’s all-time top scorer in Olivier Giroud. Didier Deschamps’ side were outplayed against England but still prevailed, a testament to their strength.
Sure, France are going into this semi-final as favorites because of their star power and experience, but if they’ve learned anything from this tournament, they’ll know not to fall into the complacency trap against so-called ‘outsiders’.
Mark Ogden gives his analysis of the best players in Qatar so far.
Today’s top readings
Morocco’s football fairy tale: How Regragui brought the Atlas Lions together
Ahead of Wednesday’s second semi-final, we have some readings on Morocco, which is the history of the World Cup (no offense Messi). First, Julien Laurens delved into Walid Regragui, her erratic 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 portrays Morocco’s magical goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, whose exploits and complex family history sum up the brilliance of his national team and the Moroccan diaspora.
A tribute to Grant Wahl and his legacy in the football world
We end top readings on a bittersweet note: ESPN’s Luis Miguel Echegaray penned a touching essay on his close friend Grant Wahl following the US football journalist’s shocking death in Doha during Friday’s quarter-final match between Argentina and the Netherlands.
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 essential tips on odds, options and futures. Here’s what we have for Wednesday’s semifinals.
Morocco (+625) vs. France (-200), draw (+285)
Paul Carr: Similar to the other semi-final, the value here is on the underdog. France will have more possession and will likely overtake Morocco by at least 2-1, but Morocco are ok with that and are looking to capitalize on a handful of good counterattack opportunities. Despite the questions about the health of the Moroccan defence, they have a better than 1 in 4 chance of staying through and at least going into overtime. I’d rather play against Morocco to progress anything north of +300, and again I like the price of the draw (+285) when the other prices are lower.
Dalen cuff: You will get no argument from me about Paul’s analysis above. As good as Morocco was defensively (only one goal conceded – no less than an own goal), I like it over here. They’re a bit shaky and France have shown they can score goals. Conversely, France have been hit in every game and look shaky at the back. Les Bleus will have the lion’s share of the ball, which is good for Morocco as they are set to pull off some solid counterattacks in this game. The Atlas Lions were good at capitalizing on relatively few scoring chances in every game. I go with over 2.5 goals at +125.
DanielThomas: Damn it, wouldn’t it be the absolute epitome of this World Cup if Morocco KO’d the defending champions? France weren’t great against England but they have the attacking potential to tear apart even the tightest of defences. I really like Antoine Griezmann with an “Anytime Assist” at +240.
Messages and Notes
We know the World Cup is a national team battle but the players have to go back to their clubs at the end and it’s nice to see some cohesion after England’s quarter-final loss to France. Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris told the media on Tuesday he had texted his team-mate, England striker Harry Kane, after Saturday’s defeat in which Kane missed a penalty. “It’s a difficult time for the England team and Harry. … I don’t need to go too much further. We had a text [exchange] after the game. It wasn’t easy to find the words. He needed some rest but I think he can be proud of what he has done for the national team.”
From one Brazilian legend to the next, Ronaldo Nazario warned that Neymar needs psychological support to deal with the “disproportionate pressure” of trying to win the World Cup.
Well done Lionel Messi! He is now gearing up for another World Cup final and will do so as Argentina’s all-time top scorer at the World Cup, with his penalty against Croatia being his 11th goal in the competition. PHOW.
And finally an England reading. Remember how good Harry Maguire was during the Three Lions’ run to the Quarterfinals? Well, his club manager, Man United’s Erik ten Hag, has certainly noticed and is hoping the defender’s form returns with him from Qatar. “It’s clear he’s good enough to play at the highest level,” said Ten Hag at United’s training camp in Spain. “We want him to bring that back to Manchester with him so he can put it on the pitch for United.
What’s up tomorrow
France vs. Morocco (2p ET): That’s it! In the second semi-final, Kylian Mbappe & Co. will face off against the outstanding Cinderella story of the World Cup. Who will advance?