Due to some bad calls, they knocked their opponents out of the tournament against Japan. At this point in the tournament, staying alive is paramount, but it’s hard to find a less convincing win in the round of 16. Croatia clearly knows how to negotiate knockout soccer, especially over 90 minutes, but they’ll need a more resilient performance than the one that knocked out Brazil on Saturday.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that Spain, who haven’t won a World Cup knockout since the 2010 final, were knocked out of the tournament by Qatar’s biggest super team? Their place in the quarterfinals had more to do with their convincing gutsy soccer under Walid Legraj than any defeat by their opponents. No doubt it was a major setback to see them reach this stage, but their resilience in midfield and defense, Hakim Ziyech’s threat in front of goal and their calm penalty kicks suggest they can go far.
The mixed performance at the start of the match now looks like a masterclass in Louis van Gaal’s ropes. Scored some goals on a tricky US team, set the trap and picked them off on the break, arguably the breakthrough player of the World Cup, led by Cody Gapko. The next game against Argentina could be exciting and in their case you’d be foolish not to consider Van Gaal. Worst case scenario is a toss-up.
There is a growing sense that Messi and his many admirers are willing to keep this team moving forward. Can they give the talisman a fairy-tale ending to his career? They will have to find another outfit after a close win over Australia, who almost sent their Round of 16 match into extra time. For all the talk about Messi and the fact that he did nothing for half an hour and then scored a goal as enjoyable as the one that put Argentina ahead of Australia, their best asset might be their defense. Australia’s goal was the first they had conceded since their first two games against Saudi Arabia.
Portugal scored three goals in the opening 14 minutes of their win over Switzerland as they beat Brentford 4-0 in a game that looked a bit like Aston Villa after Steven Gerrard’s dismissal. It was the Cristiano Ronaldo effect, or more accurately, the non-Cristiano Ronaldo effect? Substitute Goncalo Ramos scored a hat-trick and their first goal was a shocker. Make a capable Switzerland look unlucky, but Morocco will present a different and potentially more difficult challenge.
Another impressive win over Senegal, who like Switzerland are a good opponent for Portugal and they made them look bad. Now it’s just a small matter of their biggest World Cup match in 20 years. The result and to some extent the performance against France will go a long way in determining Gareth Southgate’s legacy. This is too close to call because if England can keep Kylian Mbappe quiet, they have proven they have the grit and talent to take on the best players. Is this their time to resume typing, or will they show their fans that England are finally ready for a serious challenge in this tournament?
After an unpredictable group stage, the Round of 16 was notable for strong teams showing muscle and scoring amazing scores. So what does it mean that France beat Poland, who looked to be one of the weakest teams in the group stage, by just two goals? On paper, the win doesn’t look as convincing as Portugal or England, but in reality, it was the increasingly fearsome Mbappe who earned them a higher position than the teams they’ll face next. After Argentina’s match against the Netherlands, this was the most unpredictable match of the quarterfinals. This time in the knockout stages, England’s A-list opponents will have to do everything they can to beat them.
They were full of braggadocio, joy and dancing as they beat South Korea, but it was the way they scored three non-penalty goals and the sheer number of chances they then created that scared every team left in this World Cup. No team has such fearsome speed and skill, and Neymar has adapted his game to become a wise old man, directing traffic from a deeper position. Many on their team have been elevated by the stage and the long history of the jersey. Plus, in a way, XG is playing against some of the meanest defenders in the game.