The first knockout round, however, did not live up to the level set by the final group game edge-of-the-seat thrillers.
The FIFA World Cup 2022 is reaching the business end of the tournament, as the number of countries has gone down from 32 to eight. It wasn’t long ago that the group stages concluded, with half of the teams ousted from the tournament. Former champions Germany and Belgium’s departure from the first hurdle were the biggest shocks of this World Cup. The action-packed final round of matches also saw some surprise nations make it to the knockout stage with Asian sides Japan and South Korea topping that list.
🚫 Bounou’s heroics
🔥 Portugal bag 6️⃣
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) December 7, 2022
Then came the round-of-16 stage. It saw a total of eight games taking place between the remaining 16 teams. The first knockout round, however, did not live up to the level set by the final group game edge-of-the-seat thrillers. It went along the predictable route. Teams that were expected to win, did win their games. Barring the Spain result, which saw the 2010 World Champions being knocked out in a penalty shootout by Morocco, the remaining results went as expected.
|Netherlands beat USA
|Argentina beat Australia
|France beat Poland
|England beat Senegal
|Japan lose to Croatia
|1-1 (1-3 on pens)
|Brazil beat South Korea
|Morocco beat Spain
|0-0 (3-0 on pens)
|Portugal beat Switzerland
Perhaps the comfortable nature in which some teams won their games might have left a few supporters dropping their jaws to the ground. Portugal and England fall into this bracket. Otherwise, the favourites prevailed in all but one match. It is not exactly a bad thing, as football fanatics can now brace themselves for mouth-watering contests in the quarterfinals and beyond. Despite the expected results, the results meant more for some countries than others. Let’s take a look at which countries emerged as true winners and losers from the round-of-16 stage:
It goes without saying that Portugal are the biggest winner from the round of 16 results. Not only did they win by the biggest margin among the eight last-16 games, but the result in the other fixture also went their way. Morocco’s stunning penalty shootout victory over Spain means Portugal will now avoid a European heavyweight in the quarterfinal. They will instead face the African nation in the last-8 encounter. Make no mistake that Morocco will not be an easy encounter for any side if their current form is taken into consideration.
Having said that Fernando Santos and Portugal – any day – would prefer Morocco over Spain. Portugal’s defeat to Spain in their final Nations League group encounter in September would still be fresh in the memory of Santos. As a result, he will happily avoid the chance to not face them. At one point, Portugal’s qualification to the World Cup was in big doubt, as they had to take the long route to reach Qatar. Fast forward a few months and they now have a good chance of reaching the semifinals for the first time since the 2006 World Cup.
The first hat-trick at #Qatar2022 goes to Goncalo Ramos! ⚽ ⚽ ⚽
Portugal booked a quarter-final spot in resounding fashion, but the @Budweiser Player of the Match says his team are taking it one game at a time 🙌
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) December 6, 2022
The dream continues for Morocco in Qatar. Morocco have now become only the fourth African side to reach the World Cup quarterfinals, following Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002), and Ghana (2010). It is all thanks to their impressive penalty shootout triumph over European heavyweight Spain. This was the shock of the round-of-16 stage. Spain were expected to go deep into the competition, however, they came stuck against the spirited African nation.
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) December 8, 2022
It is safe to say that Morocco have deservedly reached the last-eight stage. They are one of the few unbeaten countries still remaining in the competition. After starting the World Cup with a goalless draw against Croatia, they defeated a big shot in Belgium and followed it up with a narrow win over Canada. Then, they got past Spain in a one-side penalty shootout. Morocco have conceded just one goal till now and that was also an own goal against Canada. Upcoming opponents Portugal will have to be extra careful when they play the tricky African side, as Morocco aim to become the first African nation to qualify for the World Cup semifinal.
The dream remains for Lionel Messi to win his first World Cup with Argentina. He came so close to fulfilling it in 2014, however, Germany ended up narrowly beating them in the final. Eight years later, Messi is in the last eight of the competition and has a good chance of going all the way. Their 2-1 victory over Australia in the round of 16 was not pretty, as the South American team had to survive a few nervous moments towards the end of the match to seal the win.
Argentina faithful would not mind it as long as the team keeps producing results. When their long unbeaten run came to an end in their opener against Saudi Arabia, some people gave up on the South American nation. However, they won their next three games on the bounce to reach the quarterfinals. They now have a difficult test against the Netherlands waiting for them in the coming round. If one recalls, Argentina got past the Dutch nation in the 2014 semifinal to reach the Championship match. Eight years later, Messi and Co will back them to repeat the result.
From failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup to reach the quarterfinals of the current one in Qatar, the Netherlands’ progress has been immense. A lot of credit has to be given to Louis van Gaal for bringing back the winning mentality to the side. They are also not scrapping through results, as the Dutch nation has played some beautiful football during the course of the tournament. They are one of the few unbeaten teams still left in the competition.
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) December 7, 2022
After finishing the group as leaders with two wins and a draw, the Netherlands got past the United States 3-1 in their round-of-16 contest. The result has allowed van Gaal to have another crack at Lionel Messi and Argentina. Van Gaal was their head coach back in 2014 when Argentina defeated them via a penalty shootout in the semifinals of the World Cup. Eight years later, he now has a chance to enact revenge on them in the quarterfinal stage. It will not be an easy game since both sides maintain a solid defensive outlook about them. Still, there will not be a better opportunity for the high-flying Netherlands to get one over Argentina and possibly go all the way to lift their first World Cup trophy.
|Croatia vs Brazil
|Netherlands vs Argentina
|Morocco vs Portugal
|England vs France
Sadly for their Spanish supporters, their national team departed the World Cup in the round-of-16 stage for the second successive time. It was in the same round they lost four years ago to then-hosts Russia in a penalty shootout. Fast forward four years and the Spaniards have exited the tournament almost in an identical fashion to Morocco in the last-16 stage. This setback will hurt their supporters, as they expected their national team to go deep in the competition following their semifinal run-in at the Euros last year.
It is to be noted that for the third successive World Cup, Spain have failed to win a knockout game. After entering the 2014 World Cup as defending champions, Spain were eliminated in the group stage. They followed it up with two consecutive last-16 finishes. Even though this might not be their golden generation, Spain still possess a squad filled with exciting quality from top to bottom. Luis Enrique’s side will be massively disappointed in leaving the tournament at this stage.
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) December 6, 2022
For all the promises Switzerland showed in the group stage of the World Cup, they would have been extremely disappointed in the manner of their elimination. Portugal and their talented young forward Goncalo Ramos – in particular – ripped through the Swiss defence in the last round-of-16 encounter. The final scoreline was a convincing 6-1 thrashing for Switzerland. Not a result many expect from them, as Switzerland are known for their compact defence. However, their defence was all over the place, as Portugal ran through them with relative ease. That would have hurt their coach and players.
Prior to the round-of-16 contest, Switzerland not only impressed in the group stage of the World Cup but even in this year’s Nations League. They had beaten Spain and Portugal in that competition. They followed it up by registering six points to finish second in Group G. Even Brazil had to work hard to defeat them in the group phase. However, they looked like a shadow of themselves in the round of 16 against an on-song Portugal side.
It seems unfair to criticise Japan following their heart-breaking elimination from the World Cup. They also produced a couple of memorable results including the come-from-behind victories over Germany and Spain in the group stage. It saw the Asian side top the group of death ahead of Spain, which saw Germany leave early from Qatar. With the fans finally believing that this could be the tournament where Japan could go deep, they came stuck in the round-of-16 stage.
Compared to some other countries, Japan did have a reasonable last-16 tie against last year’s finalists Croatia. The European nation were the favourites in this tie but the Asian side would have been happy to avoid a heavyweight. Hence, Japan’s dream of reaching their maiden quarterfinal in the World Cup remained intact. However, a heart-breaking penalty shootout defeat saw their campaign come to an abrupt end. They have to wait four more years now to try and reach their first quarterfinal in the competition.