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Talking points from quarterfinals as Morocco equals Argentina’s record

Last weekend’s quarterfinal action was full of drama and heroics moments both on and off the pitch as Argentina, Croatia, Morocco and France eliminated The Netherlands, Brazil, Portugal and England, respectively to reach the semifinals. MARK NAMANYA picks out some of the talking points.

DOHA - Lionel Messi, the Argentine maestro, has rolled back the clock with some truly mesmeric performances in Qatar. Against Netherlands at the Lusail Iconic Stadium, the Dutch couldn’t live with him. The little magician was devastating playing in ‘the hole’ and calmly converted both penalties that took his country to the last four.

MOROCCO MATCHES ARGENTINA

Atlas Lions fans have become remarkably distinct for the way they cheer on their team in Qatar. At Al Thumama Stadium where they stunned Portugal, Moroccan fans blew the roof off with an unrelenting show of passion from start to finish.

They sang, clapped and screamed themselves hoarse to generate an atmosphere that made it simply impossible for Portugal to find a way back in the game. The performance of their fans that day ranks up with their, as the support in the 2-0 victory over Belgium.

LLORIS MOMENT

When penalties are missed, the talk more often than not centres on the taker. And not the goalkeeper. Harry Kane’s penalty miss, which he blasted into the sky, was a pivotal moment in France's road to the title.

Facing his club goalkeeper again having put one penalty past him earlier, Kane somehow couldn’t summon his art from 12 yards to bury another kick past Hugo Lloris the French goalkeeper.

Goalkeepers rarely take the credit but Lloris proved too big and mentally strong for Kane to compose himself. If France lift the title, that moment would count heavily in contributing to a successful defence.

DI MARIA NOT A SPECIALIST?

When Angel Di Maria was introduced in extra-time against Netherlands, the thinking to most of us in the Media Tribune was that Lionel Scaloni was introducing a player for penalties.

Yet when 120 minutes expired, Di Maria didn’t figure in the shootout. I can’t help but wonder what instructions Scaloni had given him, seeing how Di Maria was a non-factor in extra-time of a match where the Argentines had to dig deep to see off Louis van Gaal’s Netherlands.

Eight years ago it was Di Maria’s goal that helped Argentina beat Belgium at the World Cup quarterfinal in Brazil. In 2022, he is now a reserve. Qatar is surely his final World Cup.

CROATIA’S THREE-MAN MIDFIELD

Luka Modric is 36 years but is playing like a 24-year-old. The Real Madrid star has looked indefatigable, running the show for Croatia. He was immense against Belgium, Japan and Brazil and will go down as a genuine legend of the Fifa World Cup. Alongside him is Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic who have been willing runners.

MISSING SEATS

Officially, the stadium announcer declared a capacity crowd of 65,000 for England vs France at Al Bayt stadium, but Saturday’s last quarterfinal was conspicuous for so many empty seats in the stands.

It has become commonplace for stadium announcers to declare numbers high and above the official capacity of the stadiums. I still don’t know why organisers are doing so.

PENALTY CHOICES

All teams that missed the opening penalty in the shootouts were knocked out. Spain, Japan, Netherlands and Brazil all had their first penalty takers fluffing their kicks.

Which begs the question why teams risk with the idea of keeping their best penalty taker for the final kick. Why did Rodrygo, not Neymar, take the first penalty in the shootout with Croatia?

Maybe if Neymar had taken the first kick, Brazil would still be in Doha. And not on television in Rio de Janeiro.

WAHL DEATH

I happened to be seated 20 metres away on the same row when American journalist Grant Wahl collapsed and died during the Argentina-Netherlands game. I had followed Wahl’s work for decades but had never really bothered to put a face to the byline. It was tragic to see him lose his life while on job.

There was a bit of commotion in the media tribune as journalists and fans raised their heads to understand what had transpired at the tragic scene. It was thus humbling to see Wahl’s life and work celebrated before England played France at Al Bayt the following day.

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