The quarter-final stage of the 2022 World Cup got underway today with two great matches that went the distance.
Croatia got the better of Brazil on penalties in the early kick-off, but the South American side prevailed in the following match as Argentina beat the Netherlands. Here is what went down in Qatar on Friday:
Quarter-Final: Croatia 1-1 Brazil (4-2 on penalties)
2018 finalists Croatia faced this year’s favourites Brazil in the first quarter-final, which proved to be a very interesting match.
Croatia came out with a clear gameplan to try and nullify Brazil’s attacking threat, defending in a centrally compact block for the most part that limited the spaces available between the lines. There were a lot of recurring individual battles around the pitch, where their players fared quite well.
They also looked good in possession, as Luka Modrić dictated proceedings from the centre of the pitch, while their full-backs — Josip Juranović in particular — regularly got forward.
The second half saw Brazil pin Croatia in their own half for longer spells of time, which meant that they started to create good chances as well.
Croatia’s defence did a decent job, but their most important player was goalkeeper Dominik Livaković, who had nine saves from shots worth a cumulative xGOT of 2.15 at the end of regulation time.
So, Croatia entered their second extra time period in two matches, but they remained under the cosh. They eventually broke after 105 minutes.
Neymar, who had looked a shadow of himself upto that point, dropped deep to receive the ball, played two one-twos to get into the box, went around the keeper and lifted his finish into the roof of the net above the sliding defender to give Brazil the lead.
At that point, it looked all but certain that Brazil would see out the win, but they forgot that when Croatia take a game to extra time, they aren’t there to lose.
A lovely counterattacking move started in midfield in the 117th saw substitute Mislav Oršić race down the left wing, and he pulled the ball across the box for Bruno Petković, who picked the best time to get his first World Cup goal and send the match to penalties.
Livaković was Croatia’s penalty hero last time against Japan, and he made another massive contribution here by keeping out Brazil’s first attempt from Rodrygo.
The Croatians were faultless from the spot, so the pressure continued to build on Brazil. Marquinhos was their fourth taker, and although the keeper dived the wrong way, the ball stayed out after hitting the frame of the goal.
With that, Croatia made it to back-to-back Men’s World Cup semi-finals, while Brazil were knocked out in the last eight for the fourth time in the last five editions of the tournament.
Quarter-Final: Netherlands 2-2 Argentina (3-4 on penalties)
Croatia’s semi-final opponents were to be decided in the following match, where the Netherlands faced Argentina. The main pre-match discussion point was the choice of Lionel Scaloni’s formation, as he switched to a 3-5-2 to seemingly match the opposition.
Indeed, that seemed to be part of his plan, as Argentina fully player-marked the Dutch midfield out of possession in a 5-3-2 block. That limited the threat their goal faced, but the switch to the back-three also helped them in possession.
The reason behind that was the fact that their three centre-backs had a numerical advantage against the opposing front two, so they were able to keep the ball at the back with relative comfort.
Unlocking the Dutch defence was a different matter, though, and Argentina’s risk-averse approach on the ball did not make it any easier. It was quite clear that they were looking for a moment of magic, but luckily they had someone for that.
In the 35th minute, Lionel Messi played an apparently non-existent pass past six defenders to slip in Nahuel Molina, who did his part by bundling the ball home.
The Netherlands made personnel and tactical changes in the second half but could not really ramp up the pressure. Their task was made much tougher in the 73rd minute after Denzel Dumfries gave away a penalty, which Messi coolly converted.
Louis van Gaal’s strategy of sending on as many tall men up top as possible did eventually pay off as substitute Wout Weghorst pulled one back with a header in the 83rd minute, but they still needed one more.
That eventually came in the 11th minute of stoppage time, as an ingenious free-kick routine saw Teun Koopmeiners slip the ball into Weghorst, who turned and got a shot off past the keeper from about 10 yards out.
There was not much to speak of initially in extra time, but a couple of changes in the second half saw Argentina dominate the last few minutes.
The closest they came to scoring was in the 120th minute when Enzo Fernández’s strike hit the post from outside the box, so we went to penalties for the second time on the day.
Emiliano Martínez was the penalty shoot-out star the last time Argentina found themselves in such a situation back in the 2021 Copa América, which eventually went on to be Lionel Messi’s first major international trophy.
The Aston Villa goalkeeper stepped up to the occasion here too, saving the first two Dutch penalties. Argentina started with three out of three, so the first match point fell to Fernández, who missed wide.
The final chance was taken by Lautaro Martínez, who had had a really poor World Cup campaign to that point, but he put that behind him and emphatically converted to send Argentina into the semi-finals.
👀 Looking Ahead
The other two quarter-finals will be played tomorrow, and we previewed them here.
Stats courtesy Opta via FotMob.
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