December 3rd 2022
Holland 3 USA 1; Argentina 2 Australia 1
Holland get the knockout phase off to a flyer with their wings dominant in a convincing win over USA. Wingbacks Denzel Dumfries and Daley Blind both score and assist and Haji Wright’s freaky, fluky goal proves just a consolation for the home bound yanks. Argentina get into cruise mode early against Australia too, but the Socceroos threaten an upset when they get an even more freaky, fluky goal to make things interesting. It takes a last-ditch Lisandro Martinez block and a last-minute Emiliano Martinez save to get the Argies through by the narrowest of margins. Still, it’s a red-letter day for Leo Messi, marking his 1000th senior career appearance as well as his 100th cap as Argentina captain. His superbly executed opening goal is his 9th in World Cup finals, second only to Gabriel Batistuta (10).
December 4th 2022
England 3 Senegal 0; France 3 Poland 1
Goals galore on the second day of the round of 16, as two of the young stars of the finals continue to shine. Bellingham is majestic for England as the Three Lions sweep away the Teranga Lions, setting up the first two goals for Jordan Henderson and Harry Kane.
Kylian Mbappe is the main man for France; his pass sets up Olivier Giroud for the opener, and he powers home two astonishing shots late on to finish off the Poles. His five goals now make him the man to catch for the Golden Boot.
December 5th 2022
Japan 1 Croatia 1 (3-1 penalties); Brazil 4 Korea 1
A World Cup already replete with penalties – both scored and missed – has its first taste of penalty shoot-out drama after two hours of Japan v Croatia finishes even. Daizen Maeda puts Japan ahead but Croatia strike back with a bullet header from Ivan Perisic, who finds the net for the third successive World Cup finals. Then Croatia keeper Dominik Livakovic pulls on his superhero cape and goes to work, stopping three penalties to send Croatia into the last eight for the second successive finals.
It’s mostly one way traffic in the other game as Brazil run riot, their attacking fluency in free flow as Neymar returns from injury. They score four goals in little more than the first half hour and take their feet off the pedal. Its enough to secure a last eight place and – as usual – make them popular favorites.
December 6th 2022
Morocco 0 Spain 0 (3-0 penalties); Portugal 6 Switzerland 1
Another day, another penalty shoot-out, another blow-out and another milestone. Morocco and Spain play out a tense goalless affair, substitute Pablo Sarabia coming closest to a breakthrough with a shot off the crossbar in the last minute. The hapless Spanish striker then smashes the first penalty of the shoot-out off the post, before Yaccine Bounou stops the next two Spanish penalties. Morocco score their first three kicks to sail through, becoming only the third African country (after Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana) to reach the quarter finals. The decisive kick, a calm Panenka right down the middle of the goal, is scored by Madrid born right back Achraf Hakimi.
In the other match, the big news is Fernando Costa’s decision to bench Portugal star Ronaldo for the clash with Switzerland, but his replacement, 21-year-old
Goncalo Ramos, hits a fantastic hat-trick to highlight a one-sided game. Switzerland never get going, Manuel Akanji’s goal only arriving with the damage already done.
December 9th 2022
Brazil 1 Croatia 1 (1-3 penalties); Argentina 2 Holland 2 (4-2 penalties)
The quarter finals begin and Qatar 2022 continues to deliver. Both matches feature, late, dramatic comebacks and both go the full distance – and we have yet another upset. Brazil take the initiative against Croatia, but it takes 110 minutes before some magic from Neymar creates the opener and the favorites look well on their way…but they get careless and Croatia make them pay from a counter-attack three minutes from time. Bruno Petkovic’s shot needs a deflection to take it past Alisson in the Brazilian goal and that takes the game to penalties. Livakovic takes centre stage again, stopping Brazil’s first kick. Croatia are faultless from the spot, again, scoring four straight kicks before Marquinhos hits a post to send the favorites home. For the fourth time in five finals since their last World Cup win, Brazil crash out in the quarter finals.
The other match features an even more dramatic comeback as Argentina and Holland fight out a nasty, bad-tempered affair. Spanish ref Miguel Lahoz doesn’t help matters with a record 15 cards dished out. Argentina serve Holland a taste of their own medicine with their full backs doing the damage. Messi’s genius opens the path to right back Nahuel Molina’s opening goal, and it’s left back Roberto Acuna that’s fouled for the penalty Messi converts to make it 2-0. Argentina look comfortable, but Louis van Gaal has other ideas. With time running out, he throws on two giant strikers and Argentina begin to struggle with the aerial assault. It pays dividends. Wout Weghorst, predictably heads one in, and then – unpredictably – adds a second from a well-worked free kick routine to send the game into extra time and, ultimately, penalties. It’s Martinez that brings the heroics this time, stopping Holland’s first two kicks, and that’s enough to take Argentina into the semi finals. Another Messi milestone: his 10th World Cup goal makes him Argentina’s joint top scorer in World Cup history.
December 10th 2022
England 1 France 2; Morocco 1 Portugal 0
No shoot out, but no shortage of penalty drama as France pip England by one goal to make the last four. England contain the threat of Mbappe for the most part, but France have other tools and take the lead from Aurelien Tchouameni’s rasping drive after 20 minutes. Harry Kane equalizes from a penalty after Saka is fouled in the box, sending Lloris the wrong way, and England look the more likely after the break…until Olivier Giroud heads home a Griezmann cross to put Les Bleus ahead. But there’s more penalty drama in the final minutes. Brazilian referee Wilton Sampaio needs a video review before awarding England a penalty for a foul on Mason Mount and Kane steps up to the spot for the second time. He opts for power this time but his effort flies high over the bar. France hang on and England go home.
It’s all about history in the second match. Morocco become the first African country to reach the semi final of the World Cup after Youssef En-Nesyri heads home the game’s only goal. Portugal cannot find the fluency nor the finishing of their last win, despite tossing in their full array of attacking talent. It’s a tearful departure for the disconsolate Ronaldo, who only features as a second half substitute in what could well be his final appearance at a World Cup.
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December 13th 2022
Argentina 3 Croatia 0
Finally. A Croatia knockout game without a penalty shoot-out. Argentina come full circle, from losing their opening match to Saudi Arabia to booking their place in the final in the space of 21 days. Julian Alvarez scores two of the goals – the first after an uncharacteristic sequence of Croatian errors from an Argentina counterattack – but this is the Messi show. He gets the opener from another penalty kick – this time for a Livakovic foul on Alvarez – but the real party piece creates Alvarez’s second goal. His dribbling run from midfield twists the excellent Josko Gvardiol this way and that leaving the 20-year-old befuddled as he drives into the box to set Alvarez up. It’s a timely reminder – were any required – of the genius of the 35-year-old making a record-equalling 25th appearance at the World Cup finals.
December 14th 2022
Morocco 0 France 2
It’s the end of the road for Morocco who go behind for the first time in the competition – to Theo Hernandez’s early strike – but then come out and play some of the brightest attacking football seen at this World Cup finals. They cause the French all manner of problems but lack the finishing to make it count. Achraf Hakimi – with help from the impressive Sofyan Amrabat – keeps close friend and club teammate Mbappe in check for most of the game, but the French striker bursts to life late, dribbling through the Morocco defence to concoct the clincher for substitute Randall Kolo Muani. Morocco go home with heads held high, with coach Walid Regragui’s reputation enhanced along with that of players like Amrabat and the bright Azzedine Ounahi. France move on to a second consecutive World Cup final…and a chance to become the first successful defending champions since Brazil in 1962.
December 17th 2022
Croatia 2 Morocco 1
The match no one wants to play gets off to a flying start and serves a finely balanced competitive treat. Gvardiol heads Croatia ahead after just six minutes from a superbly executed, intricate set-piece routine. But Morocco are level within two minutes when Achraf Dari converts from another set piece, a swerving, dipping free kick delivery from Hakim Ziyech. Miroslav Orsic saves the best goal for last though, curling home perfectly beyond Bounou and off the upright to decide the game just before half time. Croatia’s celebrations at the end suggest that third place isn’t quite as undesired as often suggested. The evergreen Luka Modric – voted best player four years earlier in Russia – is as impressive as ever on his 162nd appearance for Croatia. Its not likely he graces another World Cup.
December 18th 2022
France 3 Argentina 3
A thrilling, scintillating end to a superb World Cup. France and Argentina put on a game for the ages, arguably the best World Cup final of all time, filled with all the elements that have made Qatar 22 such a compelling watch: unpredictability, twists and turns, penalties, comebacks and a penalty shoot out. There’s also the fascinating clash between the two outstanding stars of the World Cup – PSG teammates Messi and Mbappe – both in a battle to decide both the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball.
The Argentines draw first blood from another Messi penalty, for Ousmane Dembele’s trip on Angel di Maria, who returns from injury to play a decisive role here. Messi is involved again when Argentina break swiftly from a France corner kick and di Maria finishes a flowing move also including Alex Mac Allister and Alvarez to double the lead. It seems all over. Argentina are confident and dominant; France struggle to find rhythm. Then, with 10 minutes to go, Otamendi fouls substitute Kolo Muani in the box, and everything changes. Mbappe makes no mistake from the spot despite Martinez’s best efforts. The French press on and a sliver of hope becomes full blown ninety seconds later when Mbappe smashes home a superb volley to tie the game.
As extra time beckons, Kolo Muani misses a close header, while Messi’s piledriver draws a fine save from Lloris. Argentina regroup and have the best of extra time. Messi scores again, from close range after a Lautaro Martinez shot and Argentina celebrate. That should do it, right? Wrong. France fight back and win a second penalty for handball from a Mbappe shot. The 23-year-old scores again to complete his hat-trick – becoming only the second player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final since Geoff Hurst in 1966. There is still time for some heart-in-mouth moments at both ends before the penalty shoot out – not least when Martinez spreads himself to pull off a last ditch stop to Kolo Muani’s shot right at the end. And so on to the shoot out. Mbappe, (his eight goals will win him the Golden Boot), smashes the first into the same corner as he had his last two in the match. Messi, who will take home the Golden Ball, keeps pace with a calm, slow roller into the goal. But its all downhill for France from there; Martinez stops Coman’s effort and – after Dybala scores for Argentina – Tchouameni drags his shot wide. The decisive kick falls to Gonzalo Montiel, who’s handball had given France the penalty to tie the game in extra time. He doesn’t pass up the opportunity to make amends, sending Lloris the wrong way.
It’s taken five Word Cup finals, a world record 26 games, an Argentine record 13 goals, and 8 assists, but finally, Messi has his World Cup.
Argentina are champions again.