On Saturday, the defending champions France play the first-ever World Cup knockout match against England after the tournament’s heavy favorites Brazil were eliminated in the quarterfinals.
Morocco will attempt to become the first African or Arab country to ever make it to the semifinals, but it will face a Portugal team that defeated Switzerland with six goals in the last 16 despite playing without Cristiano Ronaldo.
Kylian Mbappe, the tournament’s top scorer with five goals, has motivated France to overcome a slew of injuries to important members of their team and advance to the round of eight in their defense of their title.
“Kylian will always be Kylian, with the ability to be decisive at any moment,” said coach Didier Deschamps, who is bidding to become the first coach to win back-to-back World Cups since World War II.
With 12 goals, England is tied for the most goals scored in the tournament after easily defeating Senegal 3-0 in the previous round.
After falling to Croatia in the semifinals four years ago and losing to Italy in a penalty shootout in the European Championship final at Wembley last year, they have yet to win a major championship since the 1966 World Cup.
“Those big matches are important reference points for the team,” said England coach Gareth Southgate.
“There have been some defeats that hurt that prepare you for nights like tomorrow where you have to be the very best version of yourself. We are ready to fight France for that place in the semifinals.”
The winner of the match between France and England at Al Bayt Stadium will play either Portugal or Morocco in the semifinals.
Morocco has already surpassed all previous records after defeating European giants Belgium and Spain.
They have one game remaining and will have the support of the overwhelming majority of the spectators at Al Thumama Stadium as they attempt to make history for African football.
“We have a whole people behind us, a continent behind us and the Arab world behind us,” said coach Walid Regragui.
“We can do it, we can make history again. It (the support) can push us, help us actually to play with this pressure, not to make any mistakes.”
After Goncalo Ramos, who took Ronaldo’s position in the starting lineup, recorded a hat-trick against Switzerland, Portugal will likely line up without him once more.
“It’s high time we stop with this conversation, stop the controversies (about Ronaldo),” said coach Fernando Santos, who will be leading Portugal in their third World Cup quarterfinal and first since 2006.
“It’s high time for you to leave Ronaldo alone, in acknowledgement for what he’s done for Portuguese football.”
BRAZIL SENT PACKING
On Friday, Lionel Messi’s Argentina overcame a comeback by the Netherlands to win in a shootout while five-time winners Brazil were eliminated in dramatic fashion, losing to Croatia on penalties following a 1-1 draw.
When he scored in overtime to tie Pele’s Selecao scoring record, Neymar appeared to have advanced Brazil to the semifinals.
However, Bruno Petkovic tied the score late on with Croatia’s first shot on goal, and Croatia went on to win the shootout 4-2 to advance to face Argentina.
“It is difficult,” said Brazil captain Thiago Silva. “But we have to try to lift our heads and carry on. There is no other alternative.”
After losing 4-2 to France in Russia, Croatia will play Argentina for a chance to play in their second consecutive World Cup final.
“This is a victory for Croatian people,” said coach Zlatko Dalic. “A great match. We eliminated the main favourites.
“This is Croatia – pride, courage, faith and patriotism.”
Argentina established a two-goal lead over the Netherlands after Lionel Messi scored a penalty and assisted on Nahuel Molina’s opening goal.
However, Dutch replacement Wout Weghorst scored twice, including an equalizer from a deft short free-kick in the 11th minute of stoppage time.
After the additional 30 minutes, the score was 2-2.
Emiliano Martinez, Argentina’s goalkeeper, put on an outstanding performance, save two spot-kicks as Argentina prevailed 4-3 on penalties, keeping Messi’s dream of following Diego Maradona and winning the World Cup alive.
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