Reigning champions France take on England in a World Cup knock-out match for the first time on Saturday, after favourites Brazil were dumped out in the quarter-finals to blow the tournament wide open.
Morocco will bid to become the first African or Arab nation to ever reach the semi-finals but face a Portugal side who put six goals past Switzerland in the last 16 after dropping Cristiano Ronaldo.
France have overcome a series of injuries to key players to reach the last eight in their title defence, inspired by Kylian Mbappe, the tournament’s leading scorer with five goals.
“Kylian will always be Kylian, with the ability to be decisive at any moment,” said coach Didier Deschamps, who is bidding to become the first coach to win back-to-back World Cups since World War II.
England are the joint-highest scorers in the tournament with 12 goals after cruising past African champions Senegal 3-0 in the previous round.
They are still waiting for a first major title since the 1966 World Cup, after losing to Croatia in the semi-finals four years ago before a penalty shootout loss to Italy in the European Championship final at Wembley last year.
“Those big matches are important reference points for the team,” said England coach Gareth Southgate.
“There have been some defeats that hurt that prepare you for nights like tomorrow where you have to be the very best version of yourself. We are ready to fight France for that place in the semi-finals.”
The winners of the France-England clash at Al Bayt Stadium will play either Morocco or Portugal in the last four.
Morocco have already gone further than ever after stunning European heavyweights Spain and Belgium.
They are now one match from breaking new ground for African football and will enjoy the backing of the vast majority of the supporters at Al Thumama Stadium.
“We have a whole people behind us, a continent behind us and the Arab world behind us,” said coach Walid Regragui.
“We can do it, we can make history again. It (the support) can push us, help us actually to play with this pressure, not to make any mistakes.”
Portugal will likely line up without Ronaldo again after his replacement in the starting XI, Goncalo Ramos, scored a hat-trick against Switzerland.
“It’s high time we stop with this conversation, stop the controversies (about Ronaldo),” said coach Fernando Santos.
– Brazil sent packing –
On Friday, five-time champions Brazil crashed out in dramatic fashion, losing to Croatia on penalties after a 1-1 draw, while Lionel Messi’s Argentina survived a fightback from the Netherlands to win in a shootout.
Neymar appeared to have fired Brazil into the semi-finals when he broke the deadlock in extra time to equal Pele’s all-time scoring record for the Selecao.
But Bruno Petkovic levelled late on with Croatia’s first shot on target before the 2018 runners-up won the shootout 4-2 to set up a meeting with Argentina.
An emotional Neymar hinted he might quit international football, saying he could not “100 percent” guarantee he would play for the national team again.
Croatia will face Argentina for a place in a second straight World Cup final after their 4-2 defeat by France in Russia.
“When you eliminate a team like Brazil from the World Cup -– who was certainly the biggest favourite -– then you must be happy and proud,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said on Saturday. “I’m tired, but happily tired.”
He said attention would immediately turn to Argentina, whom Croatia beat 3-0 in the group stage four years ago, with a focus on stopping Messi.
The South American side appeared to be coasting towards a 2-0 win against the Netherlands in a bad-tempered encounter but the match was turned on its head with two late goals from substitute Wout Weghorst.
However, goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez saved two spot-kicks to keep alive Messi’s dream of emulating Diego Maradona by winning the World Cup.
“We are in the semi-final because we have passion and heart. We are excited, just like the people,” Martinez said.
“The first thing that comes to mind is emotion. I do this for 45 million people.”
Away from the World Cup, Germany captain Manuel Neuer, whose team exited at the group stage, announced he would be out for the rest of the season after breaking his leg skiing.
© Agence France-Presse

Source: Seychelles News Agency