The last week of the 2022 FIFA World Cup is upon us and only 4 teams remain!
After a blistering Quarter Finals round filled with great football, overwhelming emotions, and some historic surprises, only Argentina, Croatia, France and Morocco remain in contention for football’s most coveted trophy.
Two pre-tournament favourites and two underdog teams will vie for the glory and, if FIFA World Cup 2022 has taught us anything, it's that anything can happen!
In the 82th minute, Argentina enjoyed a cushy 2-goal lead against the Netherlands after what had been a very intense and physical match.
Taking a lead in the 35th minute after a brilliant Lionel Messi ball put Nahuel Molina through against the dutch keeper, then little genius himself would double his lead’s side from the penalty spot in the 73rd to all but end the Dutch aspirations - especially as they had not made many in-roads against the Argentinian defense.
That was all to change in the 83rd minute, however, when substitute Wout Weghorst headed home a fantastic center from Berghuis to give the Dutch a fighting chance. Thanks to all the animosity and fouling between both sides, 10 minutes of stoppage time were awarded by the referee, and the Netherlands made the best of them by scoring a marvelous set piece in the last minute of the match, forcing it into extra time.
While Argentina kept pressing hard for a goal that would put them through to the Semis in both added times, it was not to be and everything would have to be settled during the spot kicks. Luckily for the Albiceste side, Martinez continued to show his prowess in the area and the rest is now history.
Just hours before Argentina decided their fate from the spot kick, Croatia were confirming their own in the very same fashion.
Unlike Argentina, their game plan was not to try and outplay their opponents. After all, outplaying Brazil is a very tall order and Croatia knew that an all-out attack would not end up well for them.
So instead, their strategy was the same one that got them to the Quarter Finals. The same one that got them to the WC final in 2018. They would defend with everything they had, close down spaces and suffocate the opposition, not allowing them room to play their game.
While Brazil threw everything they had into creating danger, Croatia managed to repel just about everything that came their way, with Livaković putting in a legendary display between the sticks. Meanwhile, Croatia attempted to launch counter attacks whenever possible, all while ensuring they did not leave themselves open to unnecessary risks.
This strategy would pay off time and time again, getting them all the way to extra time. It was in the 106th minute, however, that Neymar would orchestrate an absolutely brilliant attacking play that would result in Brazil finally breaching the Croatian goal.
Every Brazil fan in the world was licking their lips and dreaming of a potential South American ‘clasico’ in the Semis, as Croatia’s strategy had finally fallen apart. What they were not counting on was Croatia’s response, as ten minutes later Petkovic would get an opportunity to shoot in the heart of the area and a deflection would put the ball past Alisson and into the net.
Despite Brazil’s best efforts, extra time would come to an end and lead to the penalty shootout. Livaković did what he does best, making some almost superhuman saves and putting Croatia through to the Semis.
While both teams owe their pass to the Semi-Finals to their proficiency in penalties, only one of the two sides seems to be basing their entire knockout round strategy on them.
Argentina enjoyed a comfortable two-goal lead before Netherlands managed to drag them into extra time and spot kicks, but Croatia did not do much in the way of hurting Brazil during regulation time.
Instead, they put everything they had into neutralizing them, and preventing them from playing their attacking game. They showed they could hurt their opponents only when they were a goal behind and needed it in order to stay in the game, but once they were level they went back to the game plan of biding their time.
Will they use the same game plan against Argentina? Considering how they played against Japan in the Round of 16 as well, chances are Croatia will be targeting penalties once again as their best chance to make it to the grand final. With Dominik Livaković in his current form, it would almost be silly not to.
As a football fan, one can only hope for an early goal that will open the game up. But if that were not to come, a cheeky bet on Croatia to win on penalties pays out very nicely at 10.0 at Betsson.