Standings of all Round of 16 games in the 2022 World Cup originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The beauty of the World Cup is in full effect.
Qatar have certainly delivered in the group stage with a plethora of impractical upsets, score lines and drama, but none of that will be fading anytime soon.
Thanks to the chaos that the eight groups generated, the round of 16 should be no different. Now, there are no second chances. Every second, every detail, and every mistake will matter.
One slip up could end a nation’s World Cup journey, no matter if it’s a David or a Goliath. Seizing that pivotal moment a game could provide could send waves of joy to millions of people around the world, while the other set of fans drowns in despair.
Japan did that to Germany. Morocco did that to Belgium. Saudi Arabia almost did that to Argentina.
With a fresh batch of eight matchups booked for the next few days, let’s rank the round of 16 from worst to best:
8. France vs. Poland
The defending champions showed their class against Australia with a 4-1 thrashing before a 2-1 win over disappointing Denmark. But France’s biggest question was answered in the 1-0 loss to Tunisia: how good are they without Kylian Mbappé?
Mbappé came off the bench in the second half and shone once again, but it wasn’t enough to withstand a loss to a team France should have beaten with their B rotation. That concern shouldn’t come up against Poland, however. he tends to sit and play for the second ball because he doesn’t have the technical quality to hold possession for decent stretches.
Poland emerged from Group C with performances that were more disappointing than convincing, and Wojciech Szczesny can only do so much between the sticks. France should take care of business here.
7. Argentina vs. Australia
Lionel Messi is designed for television entertainment, but Argentina has yet to resemble a World Cup contending nation. That can certainly change regardless of how long they last in the tournament, but their loss to Saudi Arabia, coupled with an unconvincing win over Mexico thanks to the individual brilliance of Messi and Enzo Fernández, is overshadowing the team’s failings.
Too reliant on finding Messi in central areas to pull the strings, the midfield lacks the right balance and struggles to play progressive football and the back line falters when faced with heavy pressure. The Green Hawks gave the surprise, but Mexico and Poland were not willing to take the game to them and suffered the consequences.
How will Australia turn out? The Socceroos went toe-to-toe with France in the first half of that clash, but decided to go on the defensive in the second half despite being 2-1 down to protect goal difference. They may not have the quality on paper to get the win, but they can cause Argentina problems if they are aggressive from the start and maybe, maybe do the unthinkable against Messi and company.
6. Morocco vs. Spain
In tremendous fashion, Morocco emerged unscathed from Group F with wins over Belgium and Canada and a draw against Croatia. The Atlas Lions are so far the biggest dark horse at the 2022 World Cup, but their first prize for topping the group came at a cost: a matchup against Spain.
Usually, when a team finishes first, they get a favorable draw against the second-placed team from the next group, but Japan’s upset in Group E pushed Spain down the ladder. Spain’s setup is pretty simple: they’ll look to spread the ball around and wait for the right opportunity to score no matter how long it takes, and their effective pressure to get the ball away usually sees them retain possession almost immediately.
The problem is the final product of Spain. Costa Rica’s 7-0 thrashing covered up their ability to routinely create chances against teams with a superior defensive structure, which came into play in the 1-1 draw against Germany and the 2-1 loss against Japan. Morocco will have to hold their ground and capitalize on the few moments that present themselves to pull off another historic upset.
5. Brazil vs. South Korea
Brazil and South Korea played a friendly in June, and it was total dominance for the Seleção. Brazil won that game 5-1 in a duel where most of the key players took the field for both nations.
This time around, Brazil enters the matchup with two solid wins against renowned international powerhouse assassins in Serbia and Switzerland and had the luxury of fielding an all-new B-team against Cameroon to secure first place in Group G, loss notwithstanding. The main topic of conversation for the Brazilians will be the state of Neymar, who missed the last two group games with a sprained ankle. The Seleção has depth to go through certain duels without him, but the sooner he is healthy, the better.
South Korea, on the other hand, have developed into an impressive dark horse after beating Portugal 2-1 in their Group H final, beating Uruguay and Ghana in the group. The Taegeuk Warriors haven’t had star winger Son Heung-min on the score sheet, but his late assist against Portugal proved to be the difference in getting his nation through. It will be a herculean task for South Korea to surprise Brazil, but they have shown they can be clinical in the penalty area if they can get there.
4. England v Senegal
It’s the Three Lions against the Lions of Teranga. These two nations have never met in international competition, adding to the intrigue of this matchup that extends to the quality of the players on each side.
Senegal may not have the quality and depth on paper to defeat England, but they gave the Netherlands 84 minutes of good fighting and showed their resilience against Ecuador to advance out of Group A without their star player, Sadio Mané. In his absence, Ismaïla Sarr has risen to the occasion on the left wing despite having played on the right for most of his young career. Kalidou Koulibaly and Eduoard Mendy, the Chelsea duo, will also need to be impeccable, each having experience playing against most of the England team in the Premier League.
England have one of the most balanced teams on paper and on the pitch, but it is a matter of manager Gareth Southgate optimizing the wealth of talent at his disposal. Barring a draw against the United States, England managed to finish comfortably in first place in Group B without Harry Kane scoring a goal. Expect England to have most of the possession, while Senegal look to put their foot down on the counter.
3. Japan vs. Croatia
Regardless of the surprise factor, this is arguably the closest round of 16 matchup. While the previous matchups have obvious power and an underdog, this one is between a former dark horse and a current dark horse.
Croatia’s 2018 World Cup final race is still etched in the minds of many fans. The midfield trio of Luka Modrić, Marcelo Brozović and Mateo Kovačić continue to dominate midfield as they did in their spectacular run four years ago, with Joško Gvardiol emerging as the country’s breakout star at center left-back. However, the Vatreni’s lack of finishing in the final third has led to two draws in group play and they are susceptible to an exit if they cannot turn things around.
Japan, on the other hand, have beaten Germany and Spain in two comeback victories. Samurai Blue must be thinking: if we can do that against them, why can’t we beat anyone else? In those wins, Japan conceded possession (only 17% against Spain), but used their attacking depth to get what matters: victory. Let’s see if Japan has another key surprise in store.
2. USA vs. Holland
Like some of the powerhouses that have already been knocked out, the Netherlands are one of the remaining teams that haven’t shown convincing starts. Senegal pushed the Dutch to the limit without their best player, Ecuador thoroughly controlled that duel where the Dutch only had two shots (one on target) and should have beaten Qatar by more than two.
The United States are definitely going into this as the underdog and have the quality to upset, if the Stars and Stripes can find enough goals. This is likely to be a low-scoring affair, as the Netherlands like to run a defense of five, while the United States’ defense of four has only conceded one penalty goal in three games.
Cody Gakpo is coming through for the Oranje with three goals in three different games, but beyond him, there hasn’t been much for them in attack or in their construction game. The United States is the complete opposite. They can build from behind and have a midfield triumvirate capable of rotating across the pitch, but they don’t have a finisher like Gakpo. Who will be up to the moment for each side?
1. Portugal vs. Switzerland
In a group full of dark horses, Switzerland dropped out of the group and will be looking to threaten a Portuguese side that has shown some vulnerability in all three Group H games.
Cristiano Ronaldo hasn’t been the spark as the No. 9 that Portugal has needed so far, but players like Bruno Fernandes and Rafael Leão have excelled in different roles to fill the gaps. But the Portuguese defense has not been as herculean as expected, and it came to bite them against South Korea. Although that result didn’t matter in the end, as they still took first place, Switzerland will certainly be a tough test.
The Swiss, led by captain Granit Xhaka, are another well-balanced and well-coached side that does not have a pure superstar and plays brilliant team football. Yann Sommer and Gregor Kobel are two great options between the sticks and have quality all over the pitch, but it will be interesting to see how Breel Embolo fares at forward with Xherdan Shaqiri and Ruben Vargas on the wings.
This is another contest that should be close, and it will be Portugal’s toughest test yet in Qatar. If the Portuguese pass, they will show their determination as they continue their path to the title, but if they fail, the Swiss will look to take down more powerhouses. In terms of overall quality, this pairing stands out.