In a World Cup that has seen some upsets and stunners, we had our biggest yet! Brazil, led by Neymar and the favorites to win it all in Qatar, were eliminated in the quarterfinals by Croatia on penalties. Now, the 2018 World Cup runners-up aim to oust Lionel Messi and Argentina, who fended off the Netherlands (also on penalties) to reach the semifinals.
And the fun won’t stop. We expect plenty of fireworks in Saturday’s games on the other side of bracket. Will Morocco continue its dream run and get past Portugal? And will France and Kylian Mbappe keep his Golden Boot campaign and repeat title hopes against England?
Be sure to check in with ESPN throughout the tournament as we bring you the latest from Qatar. Here’s what you might have missed from Friday’s World Cup happenings, and a look ahead to Saturday’s action.
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Taylor Twellman lays into Brazil’s “inexcusable” defeat to Croatia in the quarter-finals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
End of era for Brazil? Neymar equals Pele in upset to Croatia
It seemed like the perfect script was being written. In a game that had gone to added extra time and with a spot to the semifinals on the line, Neymar’s close-range goal after some tremendous attacking play gave Brazil a late lead against Croatia. Not only did it seem enough to close out the game, it put Neymar level with legend Pele at 77 goals for most scored in Brazil men’s team history.
But then came the first rewrite. Croatia, who hadn’t a shot on target all game, tied the game when Bruno Petkovic’s shot took a deflection and nestled into the back of the net in the 117th minute.
And then the whole script was flipped as the game came down to a penalty shootout. Brazil came undone, with Rodrygo’s attempt saved by keeper Dominik Livakovic and Marquinhos bouncing his shot off the post, while Croatia converted all of theirs to claim a memorable 4-2 win after the 1-1 stalemate at end of regulation.
Brazil entered the tournament as the odds-on team to take their title tally to six. Croatia, who lost to France in the 2018 final, weren’t eyed to replicate that historic run. But under the guidance of midfield maestro Luka Modric, the Croatians stymied the Brazilians, who for the first time in Qatar lost the possession battle. At this point, are you likely to bet against them from reaching another final?
The scenes couldn’t be more different. Jubilation from the Croatian players ran past the crumpled and exhausted Brazilians. Neymar was reduced to tears after equalizing the record of one of his country’s sporting heroes, but left without even taking his chance in the shootout. And it seemed like an end of era if Neymar decides not to play for Brazil again.
If you are a fan of the Seleção, this script didn’t have a happy ending.
Ale Moreno wasn’t impressed by Neymar’s display against Croatia, despite his great goal.
Argentina avoid collapse, fend off Dutch on penalties in fiesty win
Just when we thought the day’s antics were done, we were given another dose of the dramatics in Argentina’s wild 4-3 win over the Netherlands on penalties after a rollercoaster 2-2 finish in regulation.
The first half was a fairly drab affair until Messi opened it up with a ridiculous reverse pass. He drifted along the edge of the Netherlands box and, with one flick, took four Dutch defenders out of the play and found the onrushing Nahuel Molina, who had space to side-foot it past Andries Noppert.
When Messi added a second from the penalty spot, it looked like Argentina were home free. But then came the 15 minutes of Dutch brilliance to close out the 90 minutes. Wout Weghorst’s header was planted brilliantly past Emiliano Martinez with seven minutes of normal time remaining. Then in the 10th minute of injury time, they conjured one of the best set pieces to grace any World Cup for Weghorst’s second.
Luis Miguel Echegaray reacts to Argentina’s dramatic victory over the Netherlands on penalties.
At this stage, referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz had already lost control of the match, who handed out 17 yellow cards (but no reds?) and had to pause the game twice as the benches emptied on the pitch in ensuing scuffles.
In fact, the penalty shootout almost felt a bit anticlimatic as Argentina emerged from the madness with a victory and a place in the semifinals.
Craig Burley can’t believe the Netherlands pulled off such an audacious free kick in the quarter final of a World Cup.
Quarterfinals roll on! France-England, Portugal-Morocco up next
Since winning the World Cup for France four years ago, Kylian Mbappe’s life has been a whirlwind. In Russia, he was a 19-year-old prodigy and was still emerging as one of game’s biggest stars. Now at the venerable age of 23, he can make the case of being the best player in the world.
In Qatar, Mbappe has scored five goals and is in the top spot to win the Golden Boot for most scored at the tournament. He’s leading a side that has been been playing with confidence and scored multiple goals in each of their four wins so far. Les Bleus have also been buoyed by Antoine Griezmann, normally a winger but who has thrived and stepped up as a de facto midfielder due to the pre-Qatar injuries of Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante and Corentin Tolisso.
But if this France team is to repeat as champion, it’ll have to get past a strong England side in Saturday’s quarterfinal clash. In a similar trajectory of Mbappe four years ago, 19-year-old England midfielder Jude Bellingham has emerged as one the tournament’s breakout stars. He scored England’s opening goal of the tournament in a 6-2 win against Iran, and set up England’s first goal in the 3-0 win against Wales.
Bellingham is threatening to solve a position England has struggled with for years. Central midfield has been England’s weaknesses in recent tournaments, and Bellingham is rapidly becoming the complete midfielder that coach Gareth Southgate has needed in recent years.
Steve Nicol and Alejandro Moreno discuss how England will look to deal with Kylian Mbappe when they face France.
As for Saturday’s early match between Portugal and Morocco, it remains to be seen what role (if any) Cristiano Ronaldo will play. In Portugal’s round-of-16 win over Switzerland, Ronaldo was benched in favor of Goncalo Ramos in what was seen as a big gamble by coach Fernando Santos.
It paid off as Ramos scored a hat trick, thus likely cementing Ronaldo’s role from the bench for the rest of the tournament. Santos claimed the decision was based on “strategy,” rather than Ronaldo’s angry reaction to being substituted in Portugal’s final group game against South Korea.
Regardless of what Ronaldo does, it won’t take away from what Morocco has accomplished in Qatar. A win against Portugal would make the Atlas Lions the first African squad to reach the semifinals, after Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010) all lost in the quarterfinals.
If the dream story continues, it will be because Morocco coach Walid Regragui has installed an effective defend-and-counter style. They’ve only conceded once so far in Qatar (an own goal, at that), and Yassine Bounou was magnificent in goals in the penalty shoot-out win over Spain.
Steve Nicol and Stewart Robson are dubious that Cristiano Ronaldo’s comments about Portugal winning the World Cup are truly genuine.
Your best bets (odds via Caesars Sportsbook)
If you’re looking to bet on the World Cup, ESPN contributors Paul Carr, Dan Thomas and Dalen Cuff are here to give you key tips on odds, options and futures. Here’s what we have for the Saturday’s matches.
Morocco (+450) vs. Portugal (-155), Draw (270)
Dalen Cuff: Morocco has been inspirational in this tournament. That 120-minute performance against Spain, particularly on defense, was just outstanding. However, guys were cramping, injured and struggling by the end. Contrast that with a Cristiano Ronaldo-less Portugal looking their best and most dominant in the tournament, essentially holding a training session in the second half. I think Portugal manages the game, minimizes Morocco’s opportunities on the counter and hold the Atlas Lions scoreless. Portugal to have a clean sheet at +102
Paul Carr: This has all the making of a Portugal rout, for all the reasons Dalen explained. And yet, I’m drawn to Morocco for their strong defensive effort and organization. I’ve played Morocco to advance at +290 because I just think they have a one-in-four chance to get through. If that price is gone, the draw (+260) may be a better play, since Portugal have more attacking depth for extra time.
Dan Thomas: This is an easy win for Portugal here, 3-0.
England (+210) vs. France (+129), Draw (+230)
Cuff: This could be the best quarterfinal as it features the most evenly matched and quality-laden teams. That said, I think France has been more impressive over the balance of the tournament and this game may come down to an individual moment of brilliance provided by the electric Kylian Mbappe. I think there will be goals. Over 2.5 (+105) is interesting, but I’m also going to bet France to win in 90 (+150).
Carr: I have very little feel for this game, and no reasonable outcome would surprise me. The one thing I do like is a first-half draw at +100. Both teams will likely be cautious early, since both tend to take defensive approaches — despite their firepower. If one team finds a goal early, the other will likely control the ball and have chances the rest of the half.
Thomas: England’s defense has yet to be properly tested and I think it’s going to be a disaster for manager Gareth Southgate’s side. France have so much quality going forward and we are not armed to stop them. Take a France win in 90 minutes and lots of goals.
Today’s top reads
Will Berhalter be USA manager at 2026 World Cup? The case he’s made for himself
Gregg Berhalter largely succeeded in his four years in charge of the US and has his players’ backing, but will he remain manager?
If Ronaldo joins Al-Nassr, here’s what he can expect from Saudi Arabia
With the Saudi Arabian side reportedly offering Cristiano Ronaldo a deal for £200 million a year, we had to ask: What is the league like?
Stunning England jersey highlights World Cup squad’s multicultural heritage
A special edition of England’s jersey shows “what brings us together, as opposed to what tears us apart.”
News and notes
England manager Gareth Southgate has insisted Ben White left the team’s camp for personal reasons and played down suggestions of a bust-up between the Arsenal defender and his assistant coach Steve Holland. A report emerged Friday suggesting White had been involved in a disagreement with Holland at a team meeting over a failure to recall data relating to his personal statistics. The Three Lions take on France on Saturday, with Les Bleus keeper Hugo Lloris saying he thinks it will be an epic game.
Brazil coach Tite hit back at suggestions a lack of organization in the final minutes of extra time contributed to their World Cup exit. Meanwhile, Neymar said he was unsure if he would play again for the national team after their heartbreaking loss. “Honestly, I do not know,” he said. “I think talking now is bad because of the heat of the moment. Maybe I’m not thinking straight.”
Lionel Messi said he felt “disrespected” by Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal after Argentina beat the Dutch 4-3 on penalties in a thrilling World Cup quarterfinal at Lusail Iconic Stadium in Qatar on Friday. He was also fiercely critical of the performance from Spanish referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz.