The 2022 World Cup is back after two days off – and back with a bang.
Croatia and Brazil played another classic, although it didn’t really get going until full-time. In the 30 minutes that followed, however, the World Cup provided even more high-level drama. Similarly, the game between Argentina and the Netherlands took a while to come to life, but when it finally started, there was magic.
Here are the top five takeaways FourFourTwo has learned over the course of another incredible day of World Cup action.
Croatia is much harder to beat than perhaps any of us realized
Croatia was nobody’s favorite for the World Cup – at least, far enough from the Adriatic coast. And yet they have just made it to another semi-final, their third in their young history.
So much of this tournament revolved around the lack of a replacement for Mario Mandzukic, the goalkeeper and lightning rod at the top of the Croatian side four years ago. Their star this time around was tenacious central defender Josko Gvardiol, but it didn’t look like they would score many goals.
But who needs to score a lot of goals when you can drag games into extra time and then win on penalties?
Dominic Livakovic was incredible in goal, the defense is compact and that metronomic midfield is able to take the sting out of a two-hour game and prevent the older legs from getting too tired. This is a Croatian side that will wear you down and if they get just one chance they will probably take it.
There is only 90 minutes between them and a second successive World Cup final. Well, 120 minutes, plus penalties of course.
Tite leaves a disappointing legacy
It’s safe to say we were all a little over-enthusiastic during the half-time break of Brazil’s victory over South Korea.
Tite’s side were spectacular in that first half, scoring four eye-popping goals and demonstrating the kind of samba skills that characterized the great Seleção sides of the past. But any comparison to the five world-conquering Brazilian sides of lore now looks laughable, after a blunt performance from the same players who had come through just days earlier.
Neymar certainly provided a magical moment to finally break through in extra time – matching Pelé’s record – but Brazil’s defense dissolved for the equalizer and couldn’t handle the pressure of penalties.
Tite confirmed he was stepping down as coach after the defeat and despite a win in the Copa America in 2019 and the rise to No. 1 in the FIFA rankings, it’s hard to see his spell as anything but a disappointment.
The most successful football nation in the world expects better than back-to-back World Cup quarter-finals to Belgium and Croatia. For good reason.
Argentina can keep a cool head (sort of)
In the World Cup’s most heated match to date, referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz handed out yellow cards as if they were early Christmas presents for every player. The final score was seven bookings for the Netherlands and nine for Argentina, but remarkably enough no one was sent off.
Wout Weghorst’s late one-two left the Argentine players clearly stunned, and as tempers raged, their World Cup campaign seemed to go in only one direction. But they deserve credit for the mindset displayed in their response. Lionel Scaloni’s men dusted off and put on a strong performance in the second half of extra time, coming agonizingly close to a winner as Enzo Fernandez pounded the post.
When it came to the shootout, they showed the composure their South American neighbor Brazil lacked earlier in the day. Emi Martinez was in the mood and excited the crowd as he made save after save, while Lionel Messi didn’t repeat Neymar’s mistake and decided to go first and put his side on the right track, rather than risk run that the shoot-out would end sooner. he could participate.
Passing a test of their mindset and discipline in this way could give this team more faith than ever that they can get the job done.
Wout Weghorst’s decor spectacle is evergreen
Weghourst 2 years ago 🤝Weghourst now pic.twitter.com/uXHOdYyaKFDecember 9, 2022
Two years ago, Wout Weghorst scored a cheeky small free-kick for Wolfsburg as he broke free from the wall to receive a short pass and put himself one-on-one with the goalkeeper.
Well, he’s done it again – on the biggest stage of them all. The former Burnley man and lanky frontman of the Orange tried exactly the same technique from Teun Koopmeiners’ disguised set piece – and it was perhaps the most daring goal of the entire tournament. It just goes to show that sometimes the answer is resourcefulness as much as ingenuity.
Weghorst becomes the first-ever substitute to score twice in a World Cup match for the Orange squad and his equalizer was the last ever goal since records began. What a savior.
Not enough for the Dutch – but still a great tournament moment.
Lionel Messi must be connected
“Pep hates full-back passes, but I used to do them with Messi,” Dani Alves once said. “I said to Guardiola: if Messi doesn’t touch the ball every two minutes, he will disconnect and we need him so he can decide the game. Pep agreed.”
Too often for Argentina in past tournaments, Messi was disconnected. Barcelona just seemed to do it to get how he can stay woven into the play, but all too often he is not central enough to his country. Even in the first 20 minutes of the match against the Netherlands, he didn’t have enough possession – but as the Albaceleste got the hang of their formation and started knocking balls into their number 10 to give him a feel for the game, Messi certainly got the’ on’ button found.
When Argentina led 2-0, they almost eliminated the little genius again. It almost cost them. There is something to learn here. Messi’s assist was nothing short of sublime – and it’s a lesson not just at this World Cup, but for all his teammates for the (probably) short time we’ve got him.
Give him the ball. As much as possible. It sounds obvious, but if you don’t get the ball to Messi fast enough, often enough, you are much more beatable.
If Argentina wants to progress to another World Cup final – let’s say finish Flea’s career with the title – they won’t just have to use Messi as a scalpel at the end of the field near the metronome to keep possession away from the opposition. Maybe they’ll have to face a Croatian side that likes to orchestrate…
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