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Rise and shine! No World Cup games on Sunday, but we got FA Women's Super League action as we speak on Paramount+. I'm Igor Mello -- filling in for Mike Goodman -- and let's get things rolling on the Golazo Starting XI newsletter. 

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⚽  The Forward Line

World Cup history for Africa

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The upsets keep coming, and as a result, history was made in Qatar on Saturday. Morocco became the first African nation to reach the semifinals of the World Cup with a stunning 1-0 win over Portugal, effectively putting an end to Cristiano Ronaldo's World Cup dream. It's uncharted territory for the Atlas Lions, who are accustomed to being groundbreakers for the confederation at the highest level.

  • 1970 World Cup: First from Africa to earn a point 
  • 1986 World Cup: First from Africa to reach the knockout stage
  • 2022 World Cup: First African team to reach the semifinal round

And let's not short-change the women, who recently qualified for the 2023 World Cup in New Zealand and Australia for the first time in program history. We are witnessing something magical happening in North Africa, and it might just be the beginning. Only five teams from CAF made it to this World Cup (for reference, only four South American teams made it to Qatar). The 2026 World Cup in North America will likely feature at least nine teams.

"Before the game, I told the boys that it was necessary to write history for Africa," Morocco manager Walid Regragui told TF1 after the match. "I'm very, very proud of them."

End of the road for Ronaldo?

As for Portugal, it's a bitter pill to swallow knowing this might be curtains for a certain aging 37-year-old superstar, who, dumbfoundedly, has never scored a goal in the World Cup knockout stage. We were also stripped of a potential Ronaldo-Messi final

Ronaldo will be 41 when the 2026 World Cup rolls around. He's obviously in great shape and built like a specimen, so if anyone can cheat Father Time for another World Cup, it's him. The problem is that this Portuguese team looked better without him for good parts of the tournament and it seems unlikely to imagine a scenario where he's still playing for a high-end European club in three-and-a-half years' time. He is currently a free agent and has a mammoth $225 million offer from Saudi club Al Nassr on the table. The odds are stacked against him, which is why he broke down in tears on his way out of Al Thumama Stadium tunnel in Doha. If this is the end, without a knockout stage goal, then what a sad way to go out.

🔗  Midfield Link Play

Griezmann is the player of the tournament

France are through to the final four after outlasting England in a duel that featured one converted penalty kick from Harry Kane and one missed attempt in the second half from the Tottenham Hotspur star striker. Current Golden Boot leader Kylian Mbappe was held in check and it was goals from Aurelien Tchouameni and Olivier Giroud that proved to be the difference in the 2-1 win. Giroud is France's all-time leading scorer and is one goal behind the Golden Boot leaderboard. 

While the goalscorers for France get all the praise, Antoine Griezmann has quietly become France's all-time top assist provider. Here's Jonathan Johnson on why Griezmann is making the case for the top player of the tournament.

  • Johnson: "Griezmann's latest playmaking clinic was a continuation of the building form we have seen from him since the tournament got underway with the Frenchman already leading the way for clear chances created coming out of the group stage. He might not be racking up the assists, but he is often the architect of Les Bleus' best openings with someone else taking the direct credit. In many ways, this was a throwback to 2018 in that Griezmann was more directly involved in both goals by teeing up Tchouameni in the way that he has done Paul Pogba in the past. However, perhaps most recognizable from that Russia success was the understanding between Giroud and Griezmann which enabled the latter to create that one chance he knew the veteran could take."

Let's get to some more links:

💰  The Back Line

Best bets

No World Cup games, so let's take a look at the futures. All odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook.

  • World Cup, Golden Boot Winner
    💰 THE PICK: Lionel Messi (+250). The beautiful thing about betting on a Golden Boot candidate that is in the semifinal is that they are guaranteed to play two games even if they lose the semi. Messi is one behind Mbappe and is tied in assists, which is a possible tiebreaker. I reckon Messi can overtake Mbappe in both categories and the value here is too hard to pass up. 
  • World Cup, Straight Forecast
    💰 THE PICK: France/Argentina (+175). For the uninitiated, this means I'm picking France to win it all and Argentina to finish second. I have to hit on both in order to win this bet. If you're keen on Argentina beating France in the final, you get even better value at +250. I'm just sold on a Les Bleus repeat given that Brazil and a few other contenders have gone home.