World Cup semifinals promise pragmatism over brilliance

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The semifinals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which will see Croatia take on Argentina and France play Morocco, look as if they will be a triumph of pragmatism over brilliance and emblematic of hard work on the pitch.

Croatia reached the semifinals for the second time in four years after a nerve-shredding penalty shootout against Brazil that left the pre-tournament favorites in tears.

The never-say-die spirit of the Croatians, coupled with the excellence of veteran midfielder Luka Modric and defender Dejan Lovren, saw a fine defensive display and shows that a side that has taken many ties in knockout stages of recent major tournaments to extra time, does not know how to give up.

Nearly every team in the last four has a standout player, and for Argentina, of course, it is Lionel Messi, with the 35-year-old playing in what is almost certainly his last World Cup, and looking like a man with a mission as he steered them past Australia in the last 16 and in a shootout against the Netherlands in the quarterfinals.

Messi has able lieutenants in Julian Alvarez and Enzo Fernandez, while shootout hero Emiliano Martinez is an excellent keeper, but the overall feeling of Argentina is that they are a group of players performing above the sum of their parts.

That is credit to the spirit of the Argentine players and coach Lionel Scaloni, but it also implies that Tuesday's semifinal is going to be tough and tactical rather than brilliant.

Morocco coach Walid Regragui described his side as the "Rocky of this World Cup" after his team beat Portugal to become the first African team to reach the World Cup semifinals, and that is probably a fair description.

With goalkeeper Bono stopping everything that Portugal threw at them, Morocco scored early and then made sure that Portugal didn't. They showed total commitment to the cause and were cheered on by a stadium of fans willing them on to make history.

The problem could be that a side that is so dedicated to defending will struggle if they actually have to attack at some stage.

Reigning champions France booked their place in the semifinals with a 2-1 win against England in a thrilling game, and the French are perhaps the exception to the rule. A side able to defend as a unit, but with a fearsome attack.

England defended magnificently to stop Kylian Mbappe on Saturday, but they couldn't stop Olivier Giroud from scoring, while Aurelien Tchouameni's 17th minute opener was the sort of goal that you simply can't prepare for as he hit it at over 100km/h, curling it away from keeper Jordan Pickford.

Antoine Griezmann was France's man for all seasons, laying on two assists and providing cover in midfield as well as he buzzed around the pitch. France coach Didier Deschamps said after the match that he is not looking beyond the semifinals, but as well as team spirit and discipline, France have a bit more in attack that once again could be decisive.

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