We’re now rapidly approaching the end of the World Cup. There are four games left after Morocco sank Portugal and France sent England home. Morocco have made history with their incredible run, becoming the first African team to reach the semifinals of a men’s World Cup. They beat Portugal without needing to take it to penalties, as a fantastic header from Youssef En-Nesyri and another outstanding performance in goal from Yassine Bounou proved more than Portugal could handle. England gave France a proper run, and some may argue that they were even the better team, but in the end Harry Kane could only go 50% from the penalty spot and France won, 2-1.
Now we’ll kick off the semifinals with a match between two wizened wizards and their gathered compatriots, as Lionel Messi leads Argentina against Luka Modric and Croatia. Messi has the greater reputation, and possibly the more powerful magic, but Modric and Croatia still have enough about them to claim a victory and reach their second consecutive men’s World Cup Final.
Yassine Bounou, and maybe Sevilla: Morocco have allowed an incredible one goal through five games, that lone goal coming in their 2-1 win over Canada. Yassine Bounou, the team’s first-choice goalkeeper, has started four of those five games. He was on the bench in Morocco’s 2-0 win over Belgium, but has still kept three clean sheets and only allowed one goal in four games. Not even when faced with a penalty shootout against Spain was he to be beaten, as he came up with three straight saves to set up Morocco’s quarterfinal match with Portugal. On his biggest stage yet, Bounou put in a Man of the Match-quality performance to make sure that Youssef En-Nesyri’s goal stood up. His three saves proved enough to move on to the semifinals and earn Morocco a place in history. It may all have been enough to earn Bounou, who is 31 and currently plays for relegation-contenders Sevilla, a move to a better side.
Aurélien Tchouaméni: Aurélien Tchouaméni has probably been the biggest beneficiary of France’s injury issues going into the tournament. With Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté both out, Tchouaméni stepped into a starting spot in France’s midfield and hasn’t let go, starting all five World Cup games so far. He’s looked more than up to the task so far, and now he’s got a marquee World Cup moment with his incredible goal to start the scoring against England. It may not have been the goal of the tournament, but it was an absolute rocket. I named several young-ish players who were involved in England vs. France that might be the difference-makers, but left off Tchouaméni the list. He showed me.
The Sun: We’re talking about the British tabloid here, not, you know, the star that makes this planet habitable. Well, the Sun are losers all the time, but especially after they tried to troll the whole of France by projecting ads around the country proclaiming the certainty of England’s victory and the likelihood that it was coming home. Then France won. Regardless of which side you were rooting for, you’ve got to feel pretty good about the Sun being made to look foolish.
Portugal, collectively: There are plenty of individuals who could be singled out as the biggest losers for Portugal in their 1-0 loss against Morocco, but they either feel kind of mean to single out or they’re Cristiano Ronaldo. Manager Fernando Santos did end up deciding that starting with Ronaldo on the bench gave his side the best chance of winning, but it didn’t end up mattering. They gave it a good go, but couldn’t find their way past Yassine Bounou. Ronaldo, in what may be his last Portugal game and is almost certainly his last World Cup game, didn’t start, and he also didn’t do much to make the team better when he eventually did come on. Gonçalo Ramos kept his starting spot, but couldn’t add to his outstanding showing from the previous game, and Diogo Costa had a pretty miserable time of things. The one positive for Portugal from this game was that they’ll now move forward without a massive weight around their necks and they’ve got lots of young talent to build on.
Storylines to watch in the first semifinal
11:00 AM - Argentina vs. Croatia: Argentina have apparently gotten reinforcements of a sort ahead of this semifinal meeting, with Angel Di Maria and Rodrigo De Paul both allegedly fit for the game. They both contribute a lot to make sure that Messi doesn’t have to do it all, and that he also has the support to focus on the things he does best. For Croatia, Modric is more a cog in the machine, a link in the chain, but he’s still capable of a bright and shining moment. Both of these star players have done more than enough to solidify their standing in the footballing pantheon before now, but this matchup provides an opportunity for them to create a moment that ascends to an even higher level. Will either of these players provide it, and will it be enough to lift their teams to the Final? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Watch the game on Fox, Telemundo, or streaming on FoxSports.com and Peacock.
You can catch replays of all games in English on TubiTV.com or Spanish on Peacock 30 minutes after the final whistle.