The funny thing about this World Cup tournament is that with FIFA’s app, I’ve been making predictions for each game’s final score. Only three have I got the score absolutely bang on. Of course there are many I wrongly predicted would win. It’s interesting how this whole World Cup is a big circus both inside the field and outside the field. Not just the play but the politics, disputes and even brawls. In short, this World Cup is completely unpredictable. I find it weird because I’ve been quite good at making predictions on this blog and it’s come at mixed results. I successfully predicted all the Round of 16 winners, but I only got one quarterfinal winner right.
What can I say about this Cup’s semifinal teams. Before I talk about them, it’s interesting many teams that delivered some of the biggest wins in the Round of 16 lost their quarterfinal match! As for the semifinalists, two are from Group F. Two are from different groups. Only one team has won their knockout matches without even needing added extra time. While one team qualified with nothing but matches that went to penalty kicks. Two teams are renowned for their goal scorers, while the two others owe most of their credit to their goalkeepers. Two are finalists from the last World Cup. Two have won the World Cup in the past. One has made it to the semis for the first time ever. Two teams have lost one group play game while the two Group F teams have not had a defeat. This is only the second World Cup where the semifinal teams come from three different continents.
Without further ado, here is the look at the four teams that qualified for the two semifinals and my prediction for each one:
SEMIFINAL #1: ARGENTINA vs. CROATIA
Head-To-Head Stuff: Croatia and Argentina have played each other five times in the past; two of those games in the World Cup. Croatia has won twice and Argentina have won twice. For World Cup play, their first meeting was in 1998 group play. Argentina won 1-0. The second was group play of the last World Cup. Croatia won 3-0.
For almost fifteen years when you think of Argentina, one name comes to mind: Lionel Messi. No doubt about it Messi has shone over the sport like no other player. Despite his accolades in club play, he has consistently been denied major international prizes like the Copa America and the World Cup. A common reminder that one player does not make the whole team. Argentina has a lot of talented players, but it’s always been a struggle to get them all together and win one of the biggest tournaments. They qualified for the final of the 2014 World Cup, but lost to Germany. In the two years after that, they qualified for the final of the Copa America both years and lost finals on penalty kicks. The failure of falling 4-3 to eventual champions France in the 2018 Round Of 16 added further insult to the injury.
Since the pandemic, Argentina has shown a change of play. Last year they won the Copa America and it became Messi’s first major international trophy ever. On to World Cup action, Argentina had the misfortune of losing 2-1 to Saudi Arabia. La Albiceleste knew they needed nothing but wins to qualify and they delivered with 2-0 wins in both games. They topped Group C and were one of five teams to top a group in Qatar with two wins and a loss. They won their Round Of 16 match against Australia 2-1 and won their quarterfinal against the Netherlands on penalty kicks after a 2-2 draw and a load of yellow cards. One highlight of the match was Lionel Messi scored the tenth World Cup goal of his career.
Croatia should be seen as the little team that can. They’re a nation of under 5 million that competed in six World Cups since their debut in 1998. They’ve made the Top 4 for the third time this very tournament! Returning back to the World Cup semifinals wasn’t easy. Shortly after play resumed after the pandemic, Croatia endured a lot of UEFA Nations League losses. They only made it as far as the Round Of 16 at Euro 2020, and they even struggled to resume winning during World Cup qualifying.
Things made a big improvement after their early Euro exit. Since then, they’ve only lost a single Nations League match and more than made up for things in World Cup qualification. In their play here in Qatar, the group stage was a case where they had scoreless draws against Morocco and Belgium and a 4-1 win over Canada. That big win was what they needed to qualify second in Group F. In their Round of 16 match against Japan, they drew 1-1 but won on penalty kicks. Their quarterfinal against Brazil also ended in 1-1 and again penalty kicks gave them the win. Top play has come from striker Ivan Perisic, midfielder Luka Modric and goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.
My Final Verdict: This is hard to judge. Sure, Croatia won against Argentina in 2018 group play, but both teams were different teams in 2018. Back then Croatia won all three of their group stage games while Argentina had a win, a draw and a loss. Looking at the World Cup 2022 stats, Argentina has scored a total of nine goals while Croatia has only scored six. Croatia however have only conceded three goals while Argentina has conceded five. Croatia has never lost here in Qatar while Argentina had their shock loss to Saudi Arabia. On top of it, Argentina have picked up a lot of yellow cards from their card-crazy quarterfinal against the Netherlands and they might not want to risk their best players. Looking at all the facts, I have to say I predict Argentina to win 1-0 in added extra time.
SEMIFINAL #2: FRANCE vs. MOROCCO
Head-To-Head Stuff: France and Morocco have faced off against each other 11 times in the past, but never played each other at the World Cup before. Morocco’s only win came in 1963. France won seven times.
Many of you remember my story of France’s long road of recovery from their embarrassing collapse in 2010 to winning theWorld Cup in 2018. It’s one thing to get to the top but it’s another to stay on top. After the World Cup win, France was still very skillful for the rest of 2018 and 2019, winning eleven of their sixteen games and only losing two. Things changed after the pandemic. They still managed to win many games but they showed sings of weakness. Especially during Euro 2020 when they topped their group with a win and two draws, but went out to Switzerland in the Round of 16 on a penalty shootout. 2022 also showed weakness in France as they lost three Nations League games including one match to Croatia: their opponent in the 2018 World Cup final. Many were suspecting France would become yet another casualty of the ‘curse of the defending World Cup champion.’
Here in Qatar, France had a lot to prove and they proved it. They were the first team to qualify for the knockout stage after a 4-1 win over Australia and a 2-1 win over Denmark. With that, they could afford to lose 1-0 to Tunisia and still top Group D. In their Round of 16 match against Poland, they won in convincing fashion 3-1. In their quarterfinal against England, the game was a controversial one with France winning 2-1. In addition, Kylian Mbappe is the World Cup 2022 scoring leader with five goals.
Morocco is a team that deserves more respect than you know. Although they’re not the first African nation to compete in the World Cup, they’re the first team to qualify via a direct African berth back in 1970. They didn’t qualify again until 1986 and when they competed, they became the first African nation to qualify past the preliminary group stage. Their Round of 16 finish from 1986 would remain Morocco’s best result ever for a long time. They would return to the World Cup in 1994, 1998 and 2018, but would go out in group play. Over the next four years, Morocco would continue to have frustrations with team play and their coaches. French coach Herve Renard who coached the 2018 World Cup team would resign after the team’s Round of 16 exit at the 2019 African Cup of Nations. Bosnian coach Vahid Halilhodzic would step in his place right after. Morocco’s ouster in the quarterfinals of the 2021 African Cup of Nations and Vahid’s fallout with star player Hakim Ziyech would cause him to be fired in August 2022. More than three months before the World Cup!
Placed in Halilhodzic’s place was Walid Reguagui. Reguagui would be the first Moroccan since 2016 to coach the team. Things looked promising as Morocco won two for their friendlies before the World Cup and tied the third. Here in the World Cup, it’s nothing but up. Morocco opened with a scoreless draw against Croatia, but would go on to a surprise 2-0 win over Belgium and a 2-1 win over Canada. In their Round Of 16 match, they would have to go against Spain: one of their Group B rivals from World Cup 2018. The match went scoreless, but Morocco won the penalty kick match 3-0. Their win made them the fourth African team to play in the World Cup quarterfinals. In their quarterfinal, they were up against Portugal: another Group B rival from 2018! The goal from Youssuf En-Nesyri was fluky, but it was enough for Morocco to win 1-0. The win made Morocco the first African team to qualify for a World Cup semifinal!
My Final Verdict: This is tough to call. Morocco hasn’t lost a World Cup game yet while France had a surprise loss to Tunisia. France has scored a total of eleven goals compared to the five Morocco has scored. However, Morocco has only conceded one goal in World Cup play while France has conceded one goal per game. You can thank Montreal-born Yassine Bonnou for that record. Also worth keeping in mind Morocco will play one man down thanks to a double-yellow card on Walid Cheddira during their match against Portugal. I’d predict the win to France 2-0.
And there you have it. Those are my predictions for the two semifinals. It should make for some interesting play. This whole World Cup has been a case of surprises and upsets so expect the unexpected here too.