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World Cup: Talking points ahead of semi-finals

The World Cup is in the home straight with the semi-final line-up now set and four nations potentially just 90 minutes away from competing in the showpiece final.

There has been no shortage of entertainment and intrigue over the past few weeks in Qatar and the drama is set to continue with two tasty last-four ties on the horizon.

Argentina and Croatia meet in the first semi-final at 19:00 on 13th December, while France and Morocco go head-to-head 24 hours later

Three continents are still represented after Morocco became the first African nation to reach the semi-finals, while defending champions France are still firmly in the running.

Magical Messi refusing to give up

What: Argentina v Croatia
Where: Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
When: 19:00, Tuesday 13th December
How to watch: BBC One
Odds: Argentina 3/4, Draw 23/10, Croatia 9/2

Ahead of the 2022 World Cup, Lionel Messi was heavily talked about, with many suggesting it could be his last shot at winning the competition.

Aged 35, even if he makes it to the 2026 edition, he will be far from his best and could struggle to have the kind of impact we've seen in Qatar.

The Paris Saint-Germain star has scored four goals across his five appearances, laying on a further two assists, and he's dragged his nation back from the brink on a couple of occasions already at this tournament.

It seems a long time ago that Argentina went down 2-1 to Saudi Arabia in their opener but the South American giants haven't tasted defeat since and are 7/4 To Win Outright.

They had to show spirit after throwing away a two-goal lead in their quarter-final against the Netherlands but Messi and co held their nerve in a tense penalty shootout.

Argentina's reward is a last-four tie with Croatia and the experienced European outfit, who are 7/1 To Win Outright, are likely to pose some serious questions to Lionel Scaloni's men.

Old guard still standing strong

Croatia, a country with a population of just under four million, only made their World Cup debut in 1998 but they have proven they can mix it with the best around.

They beat Argentina in the group stage of the 2018 World Cup as they picked up the maximum nine points, before seeing off Denmark, Russia and England to earn a spot in the final.

Vatreni, ultimately came up short against a formidable France, but that run in Russia, which saw them seal a 3-0 win over Argentina, stands them in good stead for the upcoming last-four clash.

The European nation are still heavily reliant on players that were involved in their defeat to France, with Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic and Dejan Lovren all over 30.

Many expected that could be a burden for Zlatko Dalic's men but it seems to have worked the other way with their experience seeing them through tough moments.

The clash with Argentina is likely to be a clash of styles with Croatia happy to sit in and soak up pressure while Argentina will dominate the ball and look to find gaps.

La Albiceleste will surely be looking at their South American counterparts Brazil, who lost on penalties to Croatia in the quarter-finals, and trying to figure out how to avoid a similar fate.

Argentina can be backed at 3/4 To Win in 90 minutes and are 4/11 To Qualify for the final.

Defending champions sneak through

What: France v Morocco
Where: Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
When: 19:00, Wednesday 14th December
How to watch: BBC One
Odds: France 8/15, Draw 13/5, Morocco 7/1

Only two nations have ever successfully defended the World Cup - Italy and Brazil - but France are closing in on adding their name to that elite club.

Even without midfield duo Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante, who starred when France lifted the trophy four years ago, they have still found a way to get the job done thus far in Qatar.

After topping their group with six points, Les Bleus saw off Poland and England to set up an intriguing semi-final with Morocco.

France, priced at 11/10 To Win Outright, were far from their best against the Three Lions and a late penalty miss from Harry Kane let them off the hook as they earned a 2-1 win on Saturday.

Olivier Giroud, who is 15/8 To Score Anytime against Morocco, has chipped in with four goals to become France's all-time leading goalscorer, while Kylian Mbappe - 3/1 To Score First - currently leads the race for the Golden Boot with five.

However, they are set to come up against a well-organised and disciplined defence when they take on Morocco and will need to show patience.

History makers looking for another upset

Morocco, 9/1 To Win Outright, have defied all the odds to become the first African nation to reach a World Cup semi-final, winning plenty of admirers along the way.

They emerged from the group in top spot, finishing clear of Croatia, Belgium and Canada and conceding just once as Nayef Aguerd put through his own net in a 2-1 triumph over the North American side.

The Atlas Lions haven't conceded again in the knockout phase, beating Spain on penalties after a goalless draw and sending Portugal out courtesy of a 1-0 victory in the last-eight.

It has been a remarkable run to this point, especially when considering boss Walid Regragui has only been in charge since August.

Much like the other semi-final, this tie is a clash of styles and Morocco will be looking to stand firm once again as they did against Spain and Portugal.

France are 8/15 To Win in normal time and 12/5 to earn a one-goal Winning Margin.

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