The Longshot: Shootout could be on cards again this evening

While Croatian stopper Dominik Livakovic has had an fine World Cup, Argentina’s goalie Emiliano Martinez is a spot expert too
The Longshot: Shootout could be on cards again this evening

The last two defeated finalist will meet in the semi-final tonight. Picture: AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko

OUR pick of Argentina to win the World Cup is still hanging in there despite a particularly bonkers quarter-final last Friday evening.

Having more or less controlled the game, they threw away a 2-0 lead when the pressure came on in the final minutes of normal and injury time. A ballsy free-kick straight out of a hockey playbook by the Dutch led to the equaliser with the final kick of the ninety (115!) minutes, which meant extra time.

It really looked like Argentina had had the stuffing knocked out of them and there was going to be only one winner.

But the Dutch decided not to press their advantage. Their opponents were on the ropes and they inexplicably stopped swinging.

In fact, if a team was going to win it in extra time it was Argentina, who met the challenge they faced with alacrity, while the Dutch retreated back into their shell.

They must have fancied themselves to win it on penalties, but then sent a centre-half up to take the first one!

The aftermath was tetchy, just as the match had been and Argentina will be grateful that a new rule resets bookings for the semi-final after picking up eight in the game.

They will however play tonight without their Sevilla full-backs Montiel and Acuna, who picked up their second booking in the knockout stages on Friday.

But at least only a red will now keep a player out of a final. Caniggia, Olarticoechea and Giusti all missed the 1990 final for Argentina after picking up a yellow in their semi with Italy (despite plenty of Maradona magic at that tournament, they played seven and only won two games). Michael Ballack, head and shoulders above the other outfield players for Germany in 2002, cruelly missed out on the decider against Brazil similarly.

So what of tonight?

A meeting of the last two runners-up. Both teams are still captained by the Golden Ball winner in each of those tournaments.

Argentina are 17/10 to lift the trophy for a third time, with Croatia 8/1 to win their first.

Messi is in the midst of the most prolific year for his country, scoring 15 times in 12 games. His 95 international goals have come against 36 opponents and the one that started it all came in a 2006 friendly against Croatia.

Their last meeting saw Croatia embarrass Argentina 3-0 in the group stage of the last World Cup, when their keeper Willy Caballero had a stinker. Both qualified but the result opened up a much clearer path to the final for Croatia and gave Argentina a last-16 tie against France, which they lost 4-3 in the best game of the tournament.

Croatia reached the semis in 2018 thanks to back-to-back penalty wins over Denmark and Russia.

This time they’ve very much crept through to the last four again after shootout successes over Japan and Brazil.

They have played five matches in this World Cup and been level at the end of regulation time in four of them. And despite being on the verge of reaching consecutive finals, they haven’t scored first in any of their last nine World Cup games, since a 2-1 win over Iceland in the 2018 group stages.

The only nation to win more penalty shootouts in the competition are their opponents, with five.

While Croatian No.1 Dominik Livakovic has had an excellent World Cup, Argentina’s goalie Emi Martinez has strong claims to be a penalty save king too.

The Aston Villa stopper’s career stats show 10 penalties saved from 23 faced — well above the average.

It’s not a tournament where you can confidently predict anything. But another shootout could be on the cards. Argentina are 17/2 to win that way. Croatia are 9/1. Toss a coin.

Morocco players react will attempt to become the first African nation to reach a world cup final tonight.
Morocco players react will attempt to become the first African nation to reach a world cup final tonight.

Mmmm! Who will come out on top in the battle of the Ms?

MESSI, Modric, Mbappe and Morocco.

The four Ms for the semis. It’s certainly not fair to equate one very good player with a whole nation though. And Kylian didn’t exactly light up the quarter-final with England, albeit he was double-teamed quite often and still managed to inject a few magic moments. But his PSG teammate Achraf Hakimi doesn’t look like a man who will be phased about the man-marking battle ahead of tomorrow’s game.

France are 8-15 to beat Morocco in 90 minutes and are as short as 1-5 to qualify, while the Atlas Lions are 10-3 to pull off another shock and make the final. They were 300-1 shots at the outset and are now 8/1.

The holders are now even money to retain a World Cup for the first time since Brazil managed it in 1962. That achievement would be even more creditable considering they had so many high-profile players pull out of the tournament beforehand because of injury (although Brazil did manage it without Pele after the group stages in ’62).

Didier Deschamps doesn’t seem to fancy the strength of his bench either, making only one change in a game that England dominated for the most part.

It is 5/6 on a France-Argentina final (it was 22/1 at the start of the tournament) and a whopping 16/1 on there being a guaranteed first-time winner if Morocco and Croatia are to contest it.

No opposition player has scored against Morocco so far at the World Cup, with their only goal conceded coming via an own goal against Canada.

They’ve also kept four clean sheets so far, with the last two sides to record five in a single edition to lift the trophy (Spain 2010, Italy 2006). France meanwhile, have conceded in every game. And with just one clean sheet in their last 11 internationals, there’s no reason to imagine Morocco won’t find the net even with limited possession.

The Bet 

I FANCY both teams to score in tomorrow’s semi at 5/4.

And 17/2 on Argentina to advance to the final on penalties.

But even though it goes against my overall prediction, 16/1 on a Croatia-Morocco final looks too good to pass up.

Michael van Gerwen and Gerwyn Price are the main men going into the World Darts Championship at the Alexandra Palace.
Michael van Gerwen and Gerwyn Price are the main men going into the World Darts Championship at the Alexandra Palace.

Is Price wrong for World Darts finals?

The PDC World Darts Championship’s 29th edition begins on Thursday at London’s Alexandra Palace and will run all the way until January 3. A total of 96 players will take part, competing for £2.5m (€2.9m) in prize money, and the champion will walk away with a cool £500,000.

There has been a wide spread of 24 winners across the 58 PDC events staged in 2022, with Michael van Gerwen (13/5 to win his fourth title) landing 10 of them, including five of the major televised events.

Reigning champ and winner of two of the last three Worlds, mohawk man Peter Wright, is 11/1 to retain the crown he won when beating Michael Smith last January.

Two-time losing finalist Smith is 8/1 to finally celebrate a maiden win.

Second favourite is 2021 winner and current World Number One Gerwyn Price (pictured above) at 6/1. Price will face a tricky path to the final and has only reached one major decider this year at the World Matchplay. Raymond van Barneveld (80/1), who beat him twice at the Grand Slam of Darts, is a potential third-round opponent while also in that section of the draw are Ryan Searle, James Wade, and Danny Noppert, who have all won titles this season.

It is probably surprising to see two-time World Champ (2015, 2016) Scot Gary Anderson as big as 50/1, but he has had a lacklustre two years. He has admitted his passion for darts has waned since the pandemic, and he missed the recent Grand Slam event. If you were to pick an outsider, Antrim’s Josh Rock is second in top seasonal averages only to van Gerwen yet is rated a 16/1 shot. The 21-year-old achieved his first televised nine-dart finish in a 10-8 defeat to van Gerwen in the Grand Slam last month before going on to win the World Youth Championship by beating Nathan Girvan 6-1 with a stunning average of 104.13, a record for a World Youth final.

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