The main event
Four teams remain in the running 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) of France, along with a boy called Lionel Messi (also four). No other player left in the tournament has more than two goals.
Related: Golden Boot World Cup 2022: the top scorers, match by match
Mbappé leads the scoring chart ahead of the semi-finals. He may not have found the net in Les Bleus’ 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 to England. Mbappé has shown he can score both scruffy close-range goals, like his second against Denmark, and pearls like his two powerful strikes against Poland. His first World Cup goal, a crafty header against Australia, was somewhere in between.
It will be fascinating to see how Morocco look to take on Mbappé in the semi-final. The Atlas Lions have conceded just one goal in five games and even managed to keep Spain scoreless in a memorable penalty shootout. Their defensive record is far superior to that of France, who have brought in five. “See you soon my friend,” wrote Achraf Hakimi he wrote on Twitter after his PSG team-mate booked a place in the bottom four. Morocco’s problem will be the same as England’s: if Mbappé doesn’t get you, Giroud probably will.
Keeping extremely fit and eager to learn, ex-Arsenal and Chelsea forward Giroud is enjoying a remarkable late career surge towards absolute greatness. Something of a Gallic Teddy Sheringham, the 36-year-old has never possessed the kind of pace that terrifies opponents, instead relying on perceptive movement and a deadly finishing ability. His victory against England came from a magnificent cross from Antoine Griezmann and also a stroke of luck, with the ball deflected off Harry Maguire’s frame and into the top corner. Giroud, as is often the case, was in the right place at the right time.
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Giroud has scored four, one fewer than Mbappé, but the same number as Messi. How will Croatia try to contain the little master in the semi-final against Argentina, with Messi aiming to lead his country to their first world title since 1986? “We don’t have a specific plan yet to stop Messi and we don’t usually 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.”
In breaking the deadlock for the Albicelestial against Australia in the round of 16 and scoring from the penalty spot in the epic quarter-final win against the Netherlands, Messi hit the bull’s-eye when counting in the round of 16. A golden boot and a World Cup for arguably the greatest player football has ever seen? Don’t bet against it. MSc
Related: Harry Kane has never made such a big mistake – no wonder he looked broken | David Hytner
The Great Southgate Debate
As England continue to lament their quarter-final defeat to France, Gareth Southgate’s future is on the agenda. “I think every time I’ve finished these tournaments I’ve needed time to make correct decisions because, emotionally, you have so many different feelings,” he said after the match. “I want to make the right decision, whenever it is, for the team, for England, for the FA, and I have to make sure whatever decision I make is the right one.” England needed a missed penalty to take the holders into extra time and, as such, pointing the finger at Southgate seems futile. After proving adept at refreshing the squad and making young players an integral part of his plans – see Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden – he has made his mark on international management like few others. Those who instinctively ask for his head should remember the eras of Roy Hodgson and Fabio Capello, so consider whether a World Cup quarter-final after a World Cup semi-final and a European Championship final really represents a poor comeback. W.M
End of the Ronaldo show
As Morocco celebrate their resounding victory against Portugal, the World Cup photographers must be mortified. What will they do before matches now without Cristiano Ronaldo photographed from 15 different angles as he sits on the bench? Most will think that Ronaldo’s departure is a grace. “Winning a World Cup for Portugal has been the biggest and most ambitious dream of my career,” CR7 said in an Instagram post. “Unfortunately yesterday the dream ended. It’s not worth reacting to the heat. From his controversial penalty against Ghana to his goal that wasn’t there against Uruguay, his histrionics against South Korea to the sideshow spectacle of his fall, Ronaldo will be remembered as one of the protagonists of the tournament despite not having done almost nothing of note. W.M
Another tragic accident for a worker in Qatar. A security guard at Lusail stadium 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 one fan told the Guardian the guard had fallen from the outer lobby high to the ground. The person involved, believed to be a migrant worker, was rushed to Hamad hospital where she is said to be in stable but critical condition. A small glimmer of hope in yet another dire situation is the slightly more humane way in which the Qatari supreme committee announced the news. Earlier this week, the chief executive of the Qatar World Cup, Nasser al-Khater, sparked controversy by saying that “death is a natural part of life – whether it’s at work or in your sleep”. when asked about the death of a migrant worker at the Saudi national team’s training ground. At least here, the supreme committee has confirmed that there will be a full investigation into the guard’s fall and that the worker will continue to receive his full salary while receiving medical treatment. It is unfortunate that these basic measures have not been applied to many of the other workers who have died in Qatar in recent times. MB
Global media observation
L’Equipe’s notoriously harsh player ratings are always worth a look. For Bukayo Saka taking 7/10 is the smallest of wins in a defeat, with the Arsenal man described by the French newspaper as “the most dangerous striker” in a “full Gunner performance”. Compare this to player ratings in the Daily Mail, which somehow came to the conclusion 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 thing: a score of 4/10 for the Brazilian referee Wilton Sampaio.
The internet reacts
The internet never forgets. This entry comes straight from the 2015 archives, with Jonny Wilkinson advising Harry Kane that the way to win a World Cup is to hit the ball over the bar…
And finally …
“If we win the World Cup, I’ll adopt the cat, if I can bring him back.” So said Kyle Walker after England progressed to the knockout stages in Qatar. Two games later and England are heading home, but Walker and fellow defender John Stones couldn’t bear to part with ‘Dave’, the stray cat they had been feeding at the team’s base at Al Wakrah.
As a result, Dave was transferred to a vet in Doha on Sunday and will be reunited with his Manchester City teammates after four months in quarantine. “I don’t mind cats, obviously, but I don’t like touching them,” Walker said. “It’s getting big,” added John Stones. “Every night he sits there waiting for his food.” In one fell swoop, there is good news amidst the gloom of yet another deflated loss in a major tournament. MSc