We have reached the business end of Qatar: the semifinals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
From here, nations will either have the chance to bask in the glory of lifting the World Cup trophy or ponder what could’ve been after falling so short, yet so far.
France, Argentina, Croatia and Morocco are the remaining four teams left. Each nation has a chance to see heroes emerge to lead the way.
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But which players could define the rest of the World Cup? Let’s look at three from each team:
Les Bleus have reached the semifinals to face Morocco after topping Group D and beating Poland and England in the round of 16 and quarterfinals, respectively.
Kylian Mbappé: You can’t really start anywhere else. The 23-year-old star continues to cement himself as the best player on the planet, bar Lionel Messi. He has five goals and two assists in four starts in Qatar, and he’ll need to be the primary catalyst for Les Bleus in their charge to repeat for the first time in nearly 60 years when Brazil achieved the feat. All eyes will go to him.
Olivier Giroud: Giroud scored the game-winner against England – the 36-year-old striker is aging like fine wine. He has four goals in four starts and has sustained the chemistry with Mbappé that led them to the title in 2018, except Giroud did not score in any of those seven games. He’s done excellent inside the box in 2022, and he’s the best striker remaining in the tournament. Will he add to his tally against Morocco?
Antoine Griezmann: The 31-year-old Griezmann has been the unsung hero for Les Bleus. He operates in a free-roam role in possession and works his tail off as a center midfielder who drops into deep zones out of possession. He has three assists to his name in five starts, including the cross that led to Giroud’s winner. He’s the force that keeps things ticking for France in central areas, and he’ll need to continue to do so to dissect a strong Moroccan backline that hasn’t conceded an opposition goal in Qatar.
The Atlas Lions have been a sensational story. They topped Group F with a draw to Croatia and a win against Belgium before upsetting Spain and Portugal in the knockout rounds.
Achraf Hakimi: The 24-year-old right back is arguably the greatest talent to don the Moroccan kit. He’s a relentless workhorse who bursts up and down the right-hand flank and rarely gets tired doing so. In terms of pound-for-pound matchups to put on Mbappé, Hakimi is the best one left in the tournament. The Paris Saint-Germain teammates should provide a display for the ages when they face off.
Yassine Bounou: Bounou has been one of the top two goalkeepers in Qatar, if not the best. He hasn’t conceded a goal from an opposition player this tournament and has rarely made a mistake. He also saved all three of Spain’s penalties in the round of 16 shootout. The 31-year-old Sevilla goalie will be facing his toughest test yet, as France have supreme goal threats all over the frontline. Can Bounou keep another clean sheet in the most important game of Morocco’s history?
Sofyan Amrabat: There hasn’t been a better holding midfielder than the 26-year-old Amrabat this tournament – if not the best midfielder in general. He rarely loses duels both on the ground and aerially, doesn’t give away possession cheaply and almost never allows dribblers to get past him. He’s the perfect cover for the Moroccan backline and is setting up to be a hot commodity should he leave Serie A’s Fiorentina in January.
The Vatreni are back in consecutive semifinals after placing second in Group F behind Morocco. They beat Japan and Brazil in back-to-back penalty shootouts.
Luka Modrić: He may be 37 years old, but he’s still been a commanding magician in the middle of the pitch. He still covers layers of green grass taking on different midfield roles throughout the course of a game and can still give 120 minutes if need be. If Croatia are to make the final again, they’ll need Modrić to deliver another strong performance as he’ll be the best midfielder in the Argentina matchup.
Dominik Livaković: The 27-year-old goalkeeper is in the conversation with Bounou as being the tournament’s best shot-stopper. Livaković had 11 saves against Brazil and one in the penalty shootout to get his team this far, not to mention the three penalty saves he logged against Japan. The Dinamo Zagreb goalie is surely on his way up the football world, and he’ll need to do so again against Lionel Messi and Co.
Joško Gvardiol: Gvardiol has been Croatia’s breakout star in Qatar. The 20-year-old left-footed center back rarely makes mistakes, is a sound technician with the ball, is one of the best ball-playing defenders out there and now has to step up against a tricky Argentina side. He has yet to put a foot wrong in this tournament, and he’ll also be tasked with delivering again in his first ever World Cup.
La Albiceleste got off to a shaky start, but eventually won Group C en route to eliminating Australia and the Netherlands in the knockout rounds.
Lionel Messi: With four goals and two assists in five games, there’s no telling where Argentina would be in Qatar without his presence. Messi can make a play out of nothing with sheer individual brilliance, and he’s the reason the nation is in prime position to reach the final. Can he deliver again with a resilient Croatian defense standing in his way? It’s hard to see why he can’t.
Rodrigo De Paul: He’s had some rough outings in group stage games, but De Paul’s work rate guarantees he’ll be involved in some sort of fashion. He’ll track back defensively and win the ball back, then go all the way up field to try to create a goal. Recent fitness issues saw him come off early against the Dutch, but he played every minute possible until then. Argentina will need him to have more performances like the 2021 Copa America Final to win the World Cup.
Emiliano Martínez: “Dibu” hasn’t always been reliable in Qatar, but he stepped up to save two penalties in the shootout win against the Dutch. But before then, he conceded two goals on the Netherlands’ sole two shots on target leading up to the shootout, so Martínez will need to be more secure to improve his efficiency between the sticks. He’ll need to be more like Livaković and Bounou to send Argentina to glory.