The main event
Four teams remain in contention for the 2022 World Cup. Only three players are likely to be in contention for the Golden Boot: Kylian Mbappé (five goals) and Olivier Giroud (four) from France, as well as a certain Lionel Messi ( also four). No other player remaining in the tournament has more than two goals.
Related: World Cup 2022 Golden Boot: top scorers, game by game
Mbappé tops the scoring charts ahead of the semi-finals. He may not have found the net in the Blues’ quarter-final win over England, but he was always a threat, often drawing two or three defenders towards him when taking possession , creating space for his teammates to hurt England. Mbappé has shown he can score both goals from close range, like his second against Denmark, and gems like his two powerful strikes against Poland. His first World Cup goal, a clever header against Australia, was somewhere in between.
It will be fascinating to see how Morocco try to handle Mbappé in the semi-finals. The Atlas Lions conceded just one goal in five matches and even managed to keep Spain scoreless in a memorable penalty shootout. Their defensive record is much higher than that of France, which has conceded five. “See you soon my friend”, wrote Achraf Hakimi wrote on Twitter after his PSG team-mate booked a place in the last four. Morocco’s problem will be the same as England’s: if Mbappé doesn’t catch you, Giroud probably will.
Staying extremely fit and eager to learn, former Arsenal and Chelsea striker Giroud is enjoying a remarkable late-career push to outright greatness. A sort of Gallic Teddy Sheringham, the 36-year-old has never possessed the kind of pace that terrifies opponents, instead relying on shrewd movement and deadly finishing ability. His winner against England came from a magnificent cross from Antoine Griezmann and a slice of luck too, the ball deflecting from Harry Maguire’s towering frame and into the top corner. Giroud, as often, was in the right place at the right time.
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Giroud scored four, one less than Mbappé, but the same number as Messi. How will Croatia look to contain the little master in their semi-final against Argentina, with Messi aiming to carry his country to a first World Cup title since 1986? “We don’t have a specific plan yet to stop Messi and we usually don’t focus on stopping a player,” Croatian striker Bruno Petkovic said on Sunday. “We will try to stop them as a team and not with man marking. Argentina is not just Messi.
Breaking the deadlock for the Albiceleste against Australia in the round of 16, and scoring from the penalty spot in the epic quarter-final win over the Netherlands, Messi delivered when it counts in the round of 16. A golden boot and a World Cup for arguably the greatest player football has ever seen? Do not bet against. LMc
Related: Harry Kane has never made such a big mistake – no wonder he looks broken | David Hytner
The Great Southgate Debate
As England continue to lament their quarter-final loss to France, Gareth Southgate’s future is high on the agenda. “I think every time I finished those tournaments I needed time to make the right decisions because emotionally you have so many different feelings,” he said after the game. “I want to make the right decision, whatever the moment, for the team, for England, for the FA, and I have to be sure that whatever decision I make is the right one.” England were one missed penalty away from taking the defending champions into extra time and, as such, pointing the finger at Southgate seems futile. Having proven himself capable of refreshing the squad and integrating young players into his plans – see Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden – he has made his mark on international management like few others. Those who instinctively call his head should remember the Roy Hodgson and Fabio Capello eras and then wonder if a World Cup quarter-final after a World Cup semi-final and a European Championship final really represents a bad return. WM
End of Ronaldo’s show
As Morocco celebrate their shock win over Portugal, World Cup press photographers must be discouraged. What will they do before matches now without Cristiano Ronaldo to photograph him from 15 different angles as he sits on the bench? Most will think Ronaldo’s departure is a mercy. “Winning a World Cup for Portugal was the biggest and most ambitious dream of my career,” CR7 said in an Instagram post. “Unfortunately, yesterday the dream ended. It is not worth reacting to the heat. From his controversial penalty against Ghana to his goal that wasn’t against Uruguay, from his antics against South Korea to his abandonment, Ronaldo will be remembered as one of the protagonists of the tournament despite his no did almost nothing of note. WM
Another tragic incident for a worker in Qatar. A Lusail stadium security guard is in intensive care after suffering a serious fall from a “significant height” while on duty following Argentina’s win over the Netherlands. The precise circumstances surrounding the fall are unclear, but a fan told The Guardian that the guard fell from the top of the outer lobby onto the ground. The person involved, believed to be a migrant worker, was rushed to Hamad Hospital where he is said to be in stable but critical condition. A small ray of hope in another dire situation is the slightly more humane way in which Qatar’s supreme committee announced the news. Earlier this week, Qatar’s World Cup chief executive Nasser al-Khater sparked controversy when he said “death is a natural part of life – whether it’s at work, whether it’s in your sleep “, when asked about the death of a migrant worker at the Saudi Arabian national team training site. Here at least, the supreme committee confirmed that there would be a full investigation into the guard’s fall and that the worker would continue to receive his full salary while receiving medical treatment. It is a pity that these most basic measures have not been applied to many other workers who have died in Qatar in recent times. MB
Global media watch
L’Equipe’s famously tough player ratings are always worth a look. For Bukayo Saka to get 7/10 is the smallest of wins in defeat, with the Arsenal man described by the French newspaper as ‘the most dangerous striker’ in a ‘complete Gunner performance’. Compare that to player ratings in the Daily Mail, which concluded that Harry Kane (7/10) and Phil Foden (7/10) had a better night than Saka (6.5/10). L’Équipe and the Mail agreed on at least one point: a score of 4/10 for Brazilian referee Wilton Sampaio.
The internet never forgets. This entry is straight out of the 2015 archives, with Jonny Wilkinson advising Harry Kane that the way to win a World Cup is to throw the ball over the bar…
And finally …
“If we win the World Cup, I’ll adopt the cat, if I can take it back.” So said Kyle Walker after England qualified for the Round of 16 in Qatar. Two games later and England go home, but Walker and fellow defensive player John Stones couldn’t bear to part with ‘Dave’, the stray cat they had fed at the team’s base in Al Wakra.
As a result, Dave was transferred to a vet in Doha on Sunday and after four months in quarantine he will be reunited with the Manchester City team-mates. “I don’t mind cats, obviously, but I don’t like touching them,” Walker said. “He’s getting big,” added John Stones. “Every night he sits there waiting for his food.” Suddenly, there’s good news amid the gloom of yet another deflating defeat in a major tournament. LMc