Sun | Feb 5, 2023

FLOW Qatar Spotlight | Kyle vs Kylian, Portuguese improvement and Moroccan delight

Published:Thursday | December 8, 2022 | 7:09 PMDaniel Wheeler, Orane Buchanan, Paul-andre Walker
France's Kylian Mbappe gestures during a training session at the Jassim Bin Hamad stadium in Doha, Qatar on Thursday.
Morocco's Hakim Ziyech in action during the World Cup round of 16 football match against Spain at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar on Tuesday.
England's Kalvin Phillips laughs while speaking to the media during a press conference at Al Wakrah Sports Complex in Al Wakrah, Qatar on Thursday.
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The Kylian dilemma

Daniel Wheeler

How do you solve a problem like Kylian Mbappé?

For England, a lot will depend on who will be tasked at full back whether that will be Kyle Walker or someone else to contain him.

It has been difficult to keep Mbappé off the scoresheet, the winger already scoring five in this tournament. The depth has been tested but France have shown no signs of slowing down. A match up worthy of a final is only good enough this year for the last eight. If Gareth Southgate can’t find a solution, France are on course to be the tournament's first repeat champions in 50 years, something that seemed unlikely given the absences of Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba.

Portugal looked better without Cristiano Ronaldo against Switzerland and if they want to win the World Cup, should continue on this path. This will be Morocoo's greatest test of their defensive shape. They have only allowed one goal in the entire tournament and that was against Canada in the group stage. Against a potent Portugese attack, they are severe underdogs. But Morocco’s belief and confidence is infectious. And playing in what will essentially be a home game with the massive Moroccan support, anything is possible.

Morocco, the not so surprising surprise

Orane Buchanan

True football fans and lovers of the beautiful game wouldn’t be totally surprised by the exploits of the Moroccan team at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar as the FIFA tournament seems to always throw up these ‘out of nowhere’ packages that leave us in awe. There was Cameroon in 1990, Bulgaria 1994, Senegal and Turkey in 2002, and Croatia in 2018.

The ‘Atlas Lions’ have truly put on a show, especially on the heels of eliminating 2010 champions, Spain, but how long will the soap-opera last?

Portugal will now have the chance to either sit back and watch their performance or clap them off the stage and say ‘well done, come again’.

Ronaldo, or might I say, Goncalo Ramos and company will start favourites, but will be wary of the dangers that lurk ahead.

In the evening’s second matchup, 2018 beaten semi-finalists England will be buoyed by the return of Raheem Sterling, but sentiments don’t win football games. Mbappé must have heard Kyle Walker’s comments saying he isn’t going to roll out any red carpet for him. Mbappé might have something to say about this.

Surprise surprise surprise, or no?

Paul-Andre Walker

Can you imagine an England-Morocco World Cup semi-final? Strange isn’t it? But, stranger things have happened. That kind of reality isn’t so far fetched with Morocco proving to be defensive juggernauts, and England, though underdogs against France, definitely keeping themselves in with a shout.

England vs Morocco may not be a must-watch for anybody, but when you stop to think about how either side would have made a World Cup semifinal, maybe you still would.

Conventional wisdom would say the semi-final placings for this bracket of the World Cup will feature a France-Portugal final, but with Morocco buoyed by their penalty shootout win over no lesser a team than Spain, and England’s players, most of whom have been to this stage of the competition, I don’t know if the odd person who sees these quarterfinals turning out differently is so far off.