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Duncan Shearer: My head says France for World Cup glory – but my heart wants Morocco

France's Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann celebrate their side's second goal against England. Image: PA.
France's Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann celebrate their side's second goal against England. Image: PA.

We’re down to four in the World Cup and I have to say I’m conflicted.

Argentina and France are favourites to progress to Sunday’s final, but there’s part of me which would love to see Croatia and Morocco upset the odds and go on to play for all the marbles this weekend.

My head says it will be Argentina v France, but my heart would love to see Croatia take on Morocco.

Croatia have defied the odds in getting this far again. There was a feeling they had peaked four years ago, but here they are, one game away from reaching the final again.

Luka Modric is still pulling the strings at 37 and his country will need him to be at his very best when they take on Argentina tonight.

There’s a huge feeling of goodwill towards Lionel Messi in what will surely be his final World Cup.

We saw reality hit Cristiano Ronaldo following Portugal’s exit against Morocco in the quarter-final as he trudged off the field in floods of tears. He knew it was the last time he would play at the World Cup and winning the biggest prize in international football had eluded him.

Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo was emotional following his side’s World Cup exit at the hands of Morocco. Image: PA

Now or never for Messi

Messi comes into the same category. He’s two years younger than Ronaldo, but, at 35, I’d be amazed to see him lead Argentina again in four years’ time.

It’s now or never for him and it is hard to imagine how he must be feeling as the one trophy he hasn’t won is tantalisingly within his reach, yet somehow feels so far away.

Ronaldo and Messi are two fabulous footballers and they deserve to be in the debate alongside legendary figures Pele and Diego Maradona about who is the greatest of all time.

I’m not sure how you can pick one over the other, but should Messi lift the World Cup on Sunday it would certainly add weight to his claim for the title.

But really, this tournament should not define his or Ronaldo’s career. We should just consider ourselves fortunate to have watched two of the best to do it entertain us as they have for the last 15 years.

Can Morocco shock the world?

Morocco are in uncharted territory and arguably have the toughest challenge.

They are the first African nation to reach the semi-final and have done so in spectacular fashion.

They beat Belgium in the group stage and have knocked out Spain and Portugal to set-up a semi-final meeting with world champions France tomorrow.

Morocco’s Bilal El Khannous celebrates at the end of their win against Portugal. Image: PA

It has come at a cost, though, as central defenders Nayef Aguerd and Roman Saiss are unlikely to be fit, while their playmaker Hakim Ziyech is also struggling.

Walid Cheddira, who worked so hard against the Portuguese backline in the quarter-final, is suspended following his red card and I’m not sure they have the depth for their biggest challenge yet.

It would be amazing to see them beat the French and go all the way – but it’s hard to see past the holders after they booked their place in the last four at the expense of England on Saturday.

Southgate should stay on as England boss

My wife is English and I’m not one of those guys who roots against England at every turn.

I’m interested to see if Gareth Southgate stays on for a fourth tournament and it is clear from his comments he is firmly undecided at this point.

He has certainly earned another crack at it and he should stay in charge.

A quarter-final, semi-final and final appearance in his three previous campaigns makes him the most successful England manager since Sir Alf Ramsey.

With a terrific group of young players there, England do have the potential to improve further.

But whether Southgate feels it’s time to let someone else try to take them there remains to be seen.

If he does step down, he can depart with his head held high.

Managers will tread carefully on Premiership return

The Scottish Premiership resumes this week following the World Cup break and both Aberdeen and Ross County have vital games for their return.

The Dons welcome champions Celtic to Pittodrie in what will be the first of a huge double-header against the Hoops and Rangers, who visit the Granite City next week, too.

Aberdeen take on Celtic this weekend.

I’ll be in Dingwall to watch County play St Johnstone.

The Staggies had found form before the break, but Saints have also improved.

Home results will be vital for County’s hopes of staying in the Premiership this season, but they have a tough return against Callum Davidson’s improving outfit.

This has historically been a busy period for clubs and using players wisely will be key for all the top-flight managers.

The five-week break will have given them a chance to get some of their injured players back and I don’t expect the training to have been too intense, given how well players look after themselves these days.

But muscle injuries are a real possibility with a busy run of games after such a substantial break in play and I expect managers to have this in the back of their minds for the upcoming games.

Caley Jags youngsters did their club proud

Caley Thistle’s youngsters can take a lot of pride from their performance at Hamilton in the SPFL Trust Trophy on Saturday.

A 2-0 defeat is no disgrace for a team of largely untried youngsters and I’m sure Caley Jags boss Billy Dodds has taken great encouragement from how well the team did against Accies.

I’m never too sure how seriously clubs take this competition and the Inverness team on Saturday reinforced what Doddsy’s real priority is this season – the Championship.

The injury crisis at the club played a huge part in the team picked for the game and the immediate task for Doddsy and his players now is to ensure they can still be in league contention by the end of January when, hopefully, their injury situation will be starting to improve.