The World Cup semifinals are set! With Croatia and Argentina clinching their spots on Friday, history was made on Saturday with Morocco beating Portugal to be the first African team to reach the final four. They’ll meet defending champions France, who outlasted England in the other quarterfinal match.
Be sure to check in with ESPN throughout the tournament as we bring you the latest from Qatar. Here’s what you might have missed from Saturday’s World Cup happenings, and a look ahead to next week’s action.
World Cup semifinals: Argentina-Croatia, France-Morocco
After Saturday’s matches, we have two full days off before the first semifinal game (Argentina-Croatia) kicks off on Tuesday, with the second tilt (France-Morocco) on Wednesday. There’ll be plenty of previews and breakdowns of the two games with an eye toward the final on Dec. 18, but a couple of notes to start off:
It’s the seventh semifinal appearance for France, followed by Argentina (5), Croatia (3) and Morocco (1).
Morocco are the first African nation to advance to the World Cup semifinals, and just the third country outside of Europe and South America to reach the semis, last done by co-hosts South Korea in 2002 (and by the United States in the inaugural 1930 edition).
France are the first defending champions to reach the semis since Brazil did so in 1998, where they eventually lost in the final to … France.
Don’t try to leave it late when playing Croatia. They join Germany as the teams with the most penalty-shootout wins without a loss in World Cup history (both 4-0 in shootouts).
Morocco’s historic run sends Ronaldo, Portugal packing
What Morocco have done at this edition of the World Cup is nothing short of remarkable. Drawn in a group with Belgium and Croatia, and having changed their coach just months before the tournament, they were simply hoping for a run to the round of 16.
But the Atlas Lions have surpassed that, and then some. By beating Portugal 1-0 in what was Cristiano Ronaldo‘s likely last World Cup, Morocco are now the first team from Africa to reach the tournament’s semifinals. And they’ve done it the hard way, with wins over heavyweights Belgium, Spain and Portugal.
Playing a defensive, countering style that has left those European sides befuddled, Morocco’s Cinderella run has embodied a fighting spirit. Which is fitting as Morocco coach Walid Regragui called his team “the Rocky Balboa of this World Cup.” And now, they’ll get defending champions France in next Wednesday’s semifinal — there is plenty of shared history between the two nations, so expect another memorable bout.
Gabby Amado praises Cristiano Ronaldo for the impact he has had on Portuguese football after his World Cup dream ended at the hands of Morocco.
As for Ronaldo, he was again named to the bench for Portugal, came on early in the second half to equal FIFA’s official record for the most-capped international men’s player with 196, but even he couldn’t find one last great World Cup moment. If this is the last we see of one of history’s great players on this stage, then it was a very subdued way to bow out.
Steve McManaman praises England’s performance despite losing 2-1 to France at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
France bid England adieu as Kane misses key penalty
With six minutes left in regulation and a chance to keep England‘s World Cup hopes alive, star forward Harry Kane — one the world’s best penalty takers — was also on the verge of making Three Lions history. Instead, Kane sailed the ball from the spot over French keeper Hugo Lloris‘ net. France held on and booked their semifinals place with a 2-1 win.
Kane had already scored one penalty earlier in the match, equalling Wayne Rooney’s all-time England goal-scoring record in the process, but when stepping up again to face his Tottenham Hotspur teammate Lloris, he uncharacteristically blazed his effort over the crossbar. It was only the fourth time he had missed for England from 21 attempts.
Bowing out to the title holders is nothing to be ashamed of, but this England side had the talent and tools to win it all in Qatar. It’s another major tournament without a trophy for England. When the 2026 World Cup rolls around in four years’ time, it will be 60 years since that 1966 triumph.
As for France, they will be the favorites of the final four. They’ll be on alert against Morocco on Wednesday, but this group of French attacking stars might be what finally breaks down the Atlas Lions’ defensive block. Aurelien Tchouameni‘s powerful strike in the 17th minute gave France the lead, but Olivier Giroud scored what proved to be a decisive header in the 78th minute — served on a platter by Antoine Griezmann. Now France’s all-time leader in assists with 27, Griezmann has reinvented himself in Qatar as a makeshift midfielder in coach Didier Deschamps’ squad.
Kylian Mbappe couldn’t add to his tally of five goals, but he remains in the lead to win the Golden Boot. Even in a quiet evening against England, his teammates rose to the occasion and are moving forward.
Rob Dawson debates whether Gareth Southgate will remain in charge of England after their quarterfinal loss.
Today’s top reads
Luis Enrique was divisive, but Spain won’t be the same without him
While results were inconsistent, Luis Enrique was brave in his selections and tactics — and Spain always entertained.
Netherlands vs. Argentina World Cup quarterfinal saw record 18 yellow cards
Lionel Messi was among a World Cup-record 17 players or coaches who were shown yellow cards during or after the game.
News and notes
American soccer writer Grant Wahl was honored with a tribute from FIFA on the desk where he was due to work Saturday at the World Cup quarterfinal match between France and England. A posy of white lilies and a framed photograph of Wahl taken in Qatar were left at the media seat that had been assigned to the 48-year-old journalist who died early Saturday. Wahl fell ill while working during extra time of the Argentina-Netherlands game Friday at Lusail Stadium. He was treated by medical staff in the media tribune and later taken by ambulance to the hospital.
FIFA opened a disciplinary case against Argentina for their actions during their contentious World Cup quarterfinal win against the Netherlands. Football’s world governing body cited “order and security at matches” in its disciplinary code for charging the Argentine FA. Lionel Messi was among a World Cup-record 17 players or coaching staff members who were shown yellow cards during or after the game.
Germany and Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer suffered a leg fracture while on a skiing tour, ruling him out for the rest of the season. Neuer, 36, featured for Germany at the World Cup in Qatar, but the four-time winners suffered an embarrassing early exit in the group stage.
Morocco beat Portugal, France beat England