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≡ QATAR 2022 ≡
The first FIFA World Cup semifinal is set, with Croatia and Argentina playing on the 13th (Tuesday) at the Lusail Iconic Stadium for a chance at the championship after both Friday quarterfinals went to penalty kicks.
The Croatians improbably tied the game in the 117th minute and then won on penalties, 4-2, while Argentina was forced to penalties after losing a 2-0 lead with 17 minutes left in regulation. But they are going on: Croatia for its second straight semifinal and Argentina back after last making it this far in 2014.
● Quarterfinals: Croatia 1, Brazil 1 (Croatia wins on penalty kicks, 4-2) ● Like a cat with nine lives, Croatia came back from a seeming defeat to tie Brazil in the final three minutes of extra time and then won, 4-2, on penalty kicks to move into the World Cup semifinals for the second tournament in a row.
The first half started with Brazil in possession and on the attack, but few opportunities to do much against stout Croatian defense. The same was true for Croatia, which had some promising build-ups but not close to scoring.
Croatian keeper Dominik Livakovic made a brilliant save on Vinicius Junior in the 48th, but Brazil was called offsides, then Neymar Junior had a direct shot at goal in the 55th, which Livakovic blocked. In the 65th, midfielder Lucas Paqueta got a weak shot on a bounding ball in the box but Livakovic punched it away at point-blank range.
But the first 90 minutes ended 0-0, with possession evenly split, but with Brazil taking 14 shots to six and a 7-0 edge on shots-on-goal. Of Croatia’s five games, three were 0-0 at the end of 90.
Brazil kept pushing in the first extra-time period, but Croatia had an excellent chance in the 103rd, with striker Bruno Petkovic streaming down the left side and sending a perfect cross to the middle of the field for midfielder Marcelo Brazovic, who pounded a shot that went over the crossbar.
Then everything changed in a moment. Another Brazilian build-up saw Neymar push into the middle of the box, then passed to Paqueta deep in the box, who gave it right back, but a little behind him. Neymar got control, pushed to the right, got around Livakovic and slammed the ball into the net from a deteriorating angle at the right side of the net at 105+1. It was Neymar’s 77th goal for Brazil, tying him with the iconic Pele for the most in Brazilian history, and Neymar’s eighth in 12 World Cup games.
Brazilian shots were up to 19-7 and 10-0 on goal after the first extra period. The Croatians had to get a goal in the next 15.
And out of nowhere, late in the period, a Croatian break saw a pass by forward Mislav Orsic to Petkovic at the top of the box resulted in a left-footed strike that deflected and flew past Alisson for the 1-1 tie in the 117th.
The extra periods ended with possession even, shots favoring Brazil by 20-9 and 10-1 on goal: Croatia’s only shot on goal was their score.
Now the penalty kicks, and the die was cast early, as Livakovic saved Rodrygo’s first try for Brazil, while Nikola Vlasic, Lovro Majer and star midfielder Luka Modric all made theirs. Brazil closed with conversions from Casemiro and Pedro, but after Orsic converted Croatia’s fourth in a row, Marquinhos had Livakovic going the wrong way, but hit the left post, closing the door on the favored Brazilians.
The last World Cup triumph for Brazil was in 2002, and the Selecao have now lost in four of their last five quarterfinals – 2006-10-18-22 – all to European teams.
● Quarterfinals: Argentina 2, Netherlands 2 (Argentina wins on penalty kicks, 4-3) ● Another overtime stunner, with the Dutch coming back from 2-0 down with seven minutes left in regulation.
A tactical first half came down to a moment of individual brilliance for Argentine superstar Lionel Messi. Dribbling well out from the Dutch goal, he moved from the right side of the field to the center, then sent a perfect through-pass past three defenders and into the path of a charging defender Nahuel Molina, who right-footed it past Dutch keeper Andries Noppert for a 1-0 lead in the 36th minute.
The Dutch had 57% of possession in the half, but Argentina was better on offense, getting five shots to one and the 1-0 lead.
The second half was more of the same, cautious possession, waiting for a break. Argentina got what looked like a decisive moment in the 71st, when Dutch defender Denzel Dumfries fouled defender Marcus Acuna at the edge of the box for a penalty. Messi converted in the 73rd and the Netherlands looked dead at 0-2, with 17 minutes left.
But 10 minutes later, the two Dutch substitute strikers got going as Steven Berghuis found the 6-6 Wout Weghorst for a header on the right side of the penalty area and a powerful header flew into the far left edge of goal to close the deficit to 2-1.
Argentina’s leisurely play with the lead suddenly turned against them, as referee Antonio Mateu (ESP) added 10 minutes of stoppage time, and the Dutch needed all of it. A final push saw Weghorst fouled at the top of the box and a free kick awarded to the Netherlands. Everyone lined up, looking for a curving shot at goal from substitute midfielder Teun Koopmeiners, but instead, the ball was fed through the wall and Weghorst controlled it and left-footed it into the goal for a stunning 2-2 tie at 90+11!
It was only the second shot on goal for the Dutch and both were goals.
The extra time periods were cautious, but Argentina almost scored in the 115th, when an Enzo Fernandez cross from the right side was well struck by Lautaro Martinez right in front of goal, but deflected off the face of defender Vigil van Dijk. Argentina continued to pour on the pressure, with sub midfielder Angel Di Maria trying to bend a corner into the goal that was punched away by Noppert, and Fernandez hit the post on a long-range strike in the 121st.
The Netherlands finished with 52% possession, but Argentina had the edge on shots 14-6 and 5-2 on shots-on-goal.
In the shoot-out, Argentine keeper Emiliano Martinez saved the first from van Dijk to his right, and the second, from Berghuis to his left, while Messi and Gonzalo Montiel made theirs for a 2-0 lead. Weghorst scored again, as did Luuk de Jong, while Argentina’s Fernandez missed and it was 3-3. But Lautaro Martinez left no doubt in the final round and Argentina walked off a 4-3 winner.
≡ PANORAMA ≡
It’s going to be hard to equal Friday’s drama, but the last two quarterfinals come Saturday:
● 10 Dec.: Morocco (3-0-1; goals 4-1) vs. Portugal (3-1; goals 12-5)
● 10 Dec.: England (3-0-1; goals 12-2) vs. France (3-1; goals 9-4)
France is the defending champion and England reached the semis in 2018. Portugal last reached the semis in 2006, and Morocco has never gotten this far before. If Morocco should win, it would be the first African semifinalist ever in the World Cup.
The semifinals will be played on the 13th and 14th and the final on 18 December.
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