Sunday 04 December 2022, 14:00

TSG runs the rule over the semi-finalists and Morocco’s magnificent run

As football lovers around the globe will surely agree, not to mention the fans of the four teams still in contention, the knockout rounds of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ have served up plenty of excitement. For the FIFA Technical Study Group, however, there has also been lots to learn from them. Following the weekend’s quarter-finals, the team of experts headed up by Jurgen Klinsmann gave its fourth press conference of the tournament to deliver its latest findings. Joining the former Germany striker on the stage on this occasion were all of his TSG colleagues: Alberto Zaccheroni, Cha Du-Ri, Sunday Oliseh, Faryd Mondragon and Pascal Zuberbuhler. We round up what they had to say about the knockout phase at Qatar 2022 so far and the trends that have emerged.

On the semi-finalists

Alberto Zaccheroni: My analysis is positive because the four teams that have reached the semi-finals have come here and all interpreted football in a different way. It’s the quality of the players that has got them this far, along with their compactness. In comparison with previous World Cups, teams have been more compact and more careful in defence. Defensive lines have been a bit lower than in the past, and they have tried to make the most of what their best players have to offer. Croatia are here thanks to the high quality of their midfield, which is extraordinary, not just in terms of quality, but also work rate. We’ve seen their midfielders doing overloads down the flanks, covering for each other, playing between the lines, and dropping back to help out in defence. Morocco have used their own characteristics in a wonderful way. No team has played more down the flanks than they have, stretching opposition defences. They’ve packed the midfield with the idea of winning the ball back in front of their defence. They have defended deeper than any of the other four semi-finalists, and as soon as they get the ball, they’ve taken full advantage of their energy and speed. We’ve seen key players like [Hakim] Ziyech and [France’s Antoine] Griezmann do a lot of defensive work, making sacrifices for the team. While we’re on the subject of France, they’re the most dangerous team in the penalty area, because they’ve got [Olivier] Giroud and [Kylian] Mbappe in there and because the midfield are doing a great job too, starting with [Adrien] Rabiot, who covers the whole pitch and is a quality player. And then there’s Argentina, who have been very good in adapting from match to match. They haven’t always followed the same script. They also made the most of the qualities of the player of the tournament so far: [Lionel] Messi.

Lionel Messi of Argentina controls the ball against Marten de Roon (L), Cody Gakpo (2L) and Virgil Van Dijk of Netherlands

On the performances by AFC teams

Cha Du-Ri: Asian teams have done very well at this World Cup, beating traditional powerhouses in the group stage, with three of them making it to the round of 16. Saudi Arabia defeated Argentina, Japan beat traditionally strong teams like Germany and Spain, and Korea Republic got the better of Portugal, who are very strong. One of the reasons why this has happened is that there are a lot of Asian players currently playing in Europe. Back in 2002, when I was playing at the World Cup, there were only two players based in Europe, with the rest in the K League. Now you have lots of Australian, Korean and Japanese players in particular based in Europe, some of them even captaining their teams in the Bundesliga. This has made them less intimidated and more competitive when they play European sides. The tactics of Asian teams are also a lot better than before. Their players have a very good understanding of tactics and can play in different formations. However, when we got to the round of 16, we had lots of problems against the powerful teams, though the gap between them in terms of performance is closing all the time.

On the best-ever FIFA World Cup for African football

Sunday Oliseh: As far as Africa is concerned, this is the greatest tournament my continent has ever had, not only because we have an African and an Arab nation in the semi-finals for the first time, but because every African team that has come here has won one game at least. Senegal got to the second round and played very well despite missing their best players. Morocco have made the most of their compact defence and the whole team has worked so hard without the ball. Sofiane Amrabat has also done a fantastic job in plugging the gaps. And when they go into defensive mode, they have triangles everywhere. Playing with triangles makes it difficult for opposition players to play a pass and break the lines without being crowded out. And how has that worked out for Morocco? They have only conceded one goal, which wasn’t scored by the opposition but by themselves.

On goalkeepers saving more penalties

Pascal Zuberbuhler: The increase in the rate of penalty saves is unbelievable. When IFAB came in with the new rule that goalkeepers need to keep one foot on the line, the keepers didn’t adapt to it very well to begin with. We complained about it being negative for goalkeepers, but the numbers are there for all to see. Some 36% of penalties taken in normal or extra time have been saved. Faryd Mondragon: The way goalkeepers have adapted to the new rules has been unbelievable, not least the timing and the concentration they need to keep only one foot on the line and then the explosiveness to get there and make the save. We are delighted that it’s been a great World Cup for goalkeepers so far. The four keepers that have led their national teams to the semi-finals have played decisive roles, making saves during games, building the play, and also stopping penalties in the shootouts.

Japan v Croatia: Round of 16 - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022

Watch the press conference in full in the video below: