The Round of 16 and the Quarter Finals of the 2022 World Cup were completed last week. Now only France, Morocco, Argentina and Croatia remain. This is certainly not the semifinals anyone picked nor the one we’d all want. Brazil and Portugal both crashed out in the quarterfinals in heartbreaking fashion. But, the games have been electric and all four of the remaining squads fully deserve to be where they are.
The loss of Brazil, Portugal, England and the Netherlands means only 2 Manchester United players are still in this World Cup. Lisandro Martinez for Argentina and Raphael Varane for France, will both look to lead their countries to glory. This is both exciting and scary for Manchester United fans. It’s awesome to see United’s starting centre back duo being represented on the world’s biggest stage, but it also only increases the risk of injury and gives the players even less time to recharge and reassimilate when they get back to Manchester.
United is already down one of its key players it seems after Diogo Dalot suffered a hamstring injury in Portugal’s loss to Morocco. There hasn’t been much of an update on the injury since, so one can only hope it won’t keep him out of the lineup for long. Let’s hope Martinez and Varane finish the tournament healthy and in fine form.
Argentina vs. Croatia (Semi-final)
Lisandro Martinez and Argentina will face off with Luca Modric and Croatia in the semi-finals this Tuesday. Both nations head into the match full of confidence and off the back of penalty shootout wins. Croatia and Argentina both showed incredible resilience in their quarterfinal matchups. Argentina had to survive a last second equalizer form the Dutch in an epic quarterfinal matchup full of drama. Meanwhile, Croatia have gone to penalties in both the Round of 16 and the Quarterfinals.
Argentina dominated their match with Australia in the Round of 16, but the score line was flattering to Australia as the match finished 2-1. Lisandro Martinez came on as a second half substitute to help lock up shop but was given the start in the Quarterfinal matchup with Holland. Martinez played on the left of a back 5 where he continued to exhibit his everlasting tenacity and composure.
The Argentina manager seems to prefer Otamendi and Romero when playing a more proper back 4. Which has left many fans quite confused. Romero has been out of form for both club and country while Otamendi hasn’t played at the highest level since he left Manchester City. Lisandro Martinez is a potential candidate for signing of the season in the Premier League but seems to be third on the depth chart for Argentina.
France vs. Morocco (Semi-final)
Raphael Varane has started every match of the knock out stage for Les Bleus, leading their backline alongside Upamecano. France dominated Poland in the Round of 16 3-1 and beat England in the quarterfinals 2-1. The performance against England was far from perfect but being able to pull out wins over decent sides even on the bad days is the sign of a perennial winning mentality.
Varane has been the most consistent and best of the French defenders. The likes of Dayot Upamecano and Theo Hernández seemed to be trying to give away penalties at will against England. That type of defending will surely keep them from winning back to back World Cups. Varane will need to lead the French backline and keep the defense organized if they are to beat a quick counter attacking Moroccan side.
England going Home
Marcus Rashford, Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw are on their way back to Manchester after England lost to France in the Quarterfinals. The Three Lions looked to be flying after their convincing 3-0 win over Senegal but they lacked the finishing touch against the French.
Shaw and Maguire started both matches and each looked excellent. Maguire looked like he really is a dominating centre half but needs to prove he can bring that back to Manchester. Eric ten Hag recently said Maguire needs to show the same desire with United that he does with England. He went on to say Maguire could be one of the best centre backs in the world if he so chooses to be.
Luke Shaw also played very well and seemed to only help solidify his place as United’s left back. The numbers are not there to back him up though as many of the chances he created were squandered by the likes of Mason Mount and Harry Kane. Shaw does get stick from time to time for United but he looked great at this World Cup.
Marcus Rashford also had a very excellent World Cup, scoring 3 goals in the group stage. One of those goals was an absolutely sensational free kick and he almost replicated it at the last minute against France. Unfortunately, even with all the goals, Southgate only gave him one start and used him as a sub in the other matches. There seems to be a love affair between Gareth Southgate and the players he had on the 2018 World Cup squad. Regardless, Rashford is the future of the England frontline alongside Saka and Foden.
After annihilating Switzerland in the Round of 16, Portugal looked like just had nothing left in the quarters for Morocco. Bruno Fernandes and Portugal put 6 goals past the Swiss but could only muster 3 shots on target against Morocco. This was a disappointing finale to what seemed like could’ve been a run at a first World Cup title for Portugal.
Bruno Fernandes was putting in performances deserving of player of the tournament but it wasn’t enough. Portugal’s attack lacked consistency with Santos choosing to drop Ronaldo and start the young Ramos up front, while Jao Felix continued to be unimpressive. Love or hate Cristiano Ronaldo, you have to wonder how the match with Morocco may have played out had Ronaldo started. Nevertheless, nothing should be taken away from just how good of a tournament Bruno Fernandes had.
Diogo Dalot surprisingly also played a big role for Portugal but only the knockout rounds. Dalot found himself on the bench for the first two matches of the tournament behind Jao Cancelo. But, was handed 3 consecutive starts to end the tournament. Unfortunately for United, this only lead to a hamstring injury which may keep him out of the United side for a while.
Brazil were chasing their 6th World Cup title and looked to be the favorites for almost everyone heading into the tournament. Their squad depth is insane and they play creative and beautiful but effective football. This saw them dominated South Korea in the Round of 16 but they were only able to conjure up 1 goal against Croatia.
Brazil only converted 2 of their penalties in the shootout with Croatia and surrendered an equalizer to Croatia in the 117th minute. This was a side that lacked discipline and was overly confident. Brazil had 21 shots and 11 on goal compared to Croatia’s 9 and 1. The Brasilein’s should’ve ran away with this match but they couldn’t.
Casemiro played every match for Brazil and was the leader of that midfield. Casemiro also stepped up in a vital moment of the penalty shootout and buried his penalty to keep Brazil alive. There wasn’t much more Casemiro could do for Brazil as a defensive midfielder. Ultimately Brazil’s failure lies in the attack. When a team only surrenders 1 shot on goal and creates 21 opportunities they should win nine times out of ten.
Antony and Fred also played some key minutes for Brazil but mainly in a substitute role. Neither looked too effective to be honest but its hard to standout in a team full of Galacticos.
Before we get into the player ratings it should be noted that Tyrell Malacia and the Netherlands were also eliminated form this World Cup. Malacia failed to get onto the pitch in the tournament.
Lisandro Martinez– Martinez has been making the most of his limited minutes, starting only two matches thus far. But, he’s looked exceptional when he’s played and only forced fans to wonder why he’s not a guaranteed starter for Argenitna yet. 7
Raphael Varane– The French backline lacks discipline and is in complete shambles, if they can’t breakdown Morocco they will lose. Varane has been the only constant at the back but needs to step his role as a leader. 6
Those no longer with us
Bruno Fernandes– This World Cup should not be over for Fernandes and he was on his way to winning player of the tournament. Let’s just hope he uses this disappointment as fuel and continues his great form for United. 10
Casemiro– Casemiro, much like Bruno, also did not deserve to be sent home. His performances were top notch and he even contributed goals in clutch situations. They said he was past it when he signed for United but clearly he is not. 10
Harry Maguire– For all the slack he’s received for United, Maguire looks a different player in that Engalnd shirt. Is it because the international game is just a bit slower, does he carry more passion for England than United or is he just not in the right system with United? 7
Marcus Rashford– Rashford was spectacular and put in the best performance a player could in a limited role. Southgate seems to really love Saka and Raheem Sterling more but Rashford proved his worth more than theirs anyways. 8
Luke Shaw– Shaw was the only out and out left back England brought to the World Cup but he was also the only one they needed. 7
Those that failed to impress
Fred– This wasn’t a tournament to remember for Fred. His role was more limited than originally hoped. 5
Antony– Nothing spectacular or too great for Antony transpired in Qatar but he’s young and got some valuable experience at the highest level. Antony is a superstar in the making, but he’s only just getting started. 5
Diogo Dalot– Unfortunately, as said before, Dalot comes back to Manchester with an injury. The right back did win a place as the starter for Portugal over Jao Cancelo as the tournament progressed so congrats for that. 6
The 2022 World Cup in Qatar has three matches left. Hard to believe it’s nearly over, but the next one in 2026 will be even better. Let’s enjoy the last bit of World Cup football we’ll have for another 4 years.