The round of the last eight of the 2022 FIFA World Cup kicks off on Friday, December 9th. Only three football confederations—UEFA, CAF, and CONMEBOL—have representatives in the quarter-finals of the prestigious tournament. Europe is represented by France, England, the Netherlands, Croatia, and Portugal.
The South American continent still has high hopes for Brazil and Argentina, which are likely to face off in the semifinals if they overcome their next opponents. Africa has instilled its hopes in Morocco. It disqualified the 2010 champions and neighbors, Spain, in shoot-outs after a goalless draw.
But what are the chances of the remaining teams, and what have their best performances on the biggest stage of association football been?
The Croats are participating in their sixth FIFA World Cup ever since they gained independence in 1991. Prior to that, they were part of Yugoslavia. Their best performance thus far has been reaching the final of the preceding edition in 2018 during which they lost 4-2 to France at the Luzhniki Stadium in Russia.
The Vatreni (Blazers) knocked out Japan in the round of sixteen in shoot-outs after a one-all stalemate. They will have to rely on the experience of their skipper, Luca Modric, when they lock horns with record champions Brazil on Friday.
The Real Madrid midfielder was the MVP of the 2018 edition. Croatia is under the guidance of Zlatko Dalic who was at their helm even during the Russia edition.
The Selecao came into this tournament as favorites having progressed well in the CONMEBOL qualifiers, and they are currently number one in the FIFA rankings. Brazil is the only side that has played at every World Cup finals edition since its inauguration in 1930, and they have won the trophy a record five times (1958, 1962,1970, 1994, 2002).
Their last triumph came in 2002 when they trounced Germany 2-0 thanks to Ronaldo’s brace. It was the first time the tournament was held in Asia (Japan/ South Korea), and so the Brazilians will be hoping for something big.
Brazil progressed to the quarter-finals after convincingly defeating South Korea 4-1, scoring all their four goals in the first thirty-six minutes.
The next hurdle will be Croatia on Friday at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan. They are currently boosted by the return of their star player and playmaker, Neymar. He had limped off in the first match against Serbia with an ankle injury. The thirty-year-old put up a man-of-the-match performance during the thrashing of South Korea.
After missing out on the 2018 edition, The Flying Dutchmen re-appointed experienced manager Louis van Gaal and have so far progressed to the round of the last-eight with ease after beating the USA 3-1. The Dutch are the only ones that have never lost a World Cup match in its history in regular time by more than one goal.
Holland has reached the final on three occasions (1974, 1978, 2010) but has never won the cup and is thus considered the unluckiest of teams. They also attained fourth and third place finishes in 1998 and 2014, respectively.
In 1974, the Netherlands lost 2-1 to West Germany in the Olympiastadion in Munich. Four years later, they again fell at the hands of the hosts in El Monumental Stadium when they lost 3-1 against Argentina in Buenos Aires. In 2010, they were beaten 1-0 by golden-age Spain.
The Dutchmen will now entertain Argentina in the late kickoff of the quarter-finals on Friday in the Lusail Iconic Stadium.
Argentina won the world cup twice—once in 1978 and in 1986. They have been runners-up three times in 1930, 1990, and 2014.
La Albiceleste came into this tournament as favorites having gone a streak of thirty-six matches unbeaten. However, despite wishing to extend their record to thirty-seven to equal that of Italy’s, Leo Messi and team unexpectedly lost their first match of the group stage with a score of 2-1 to 51st-ranked Saudi Arabia in one of the most shocking games in FIFA World Cup history.
Lionel Scaloni’s guided men bounced back with back-to-back wins against Mexico and Poland to advance to the round of sixteen. They then beat Australia 2-1, thanks to Messi’s man-of-the-match performance.
Argentina will face the Netherlands on Friday in a repeat of the 1978 final which ended with the former as the winner 3-1 after extra time.
The Atlas Lions are already at their best performance in World Cup history. They have competed in the World Cup finals on six occasions, but their best performance was in the round of sixteen in 1986, when they became the first African country to top a World Cup group. This was a feat they once again achieved in 2022.
Since the appointment of Walid Regragui, who had guided Wydad Casablanca to the 2021 to 2022 CAF Champions League, Morocco has conceded only one goal, and that came in the last group match against Canada.
Morocco will face Portugal on Saturday having eliminated Spain after spot kicks in the round of sixteen.
The Navigators have competed in the World Cup seven times, and their best performance was attaining a third place in 1966. The current Portuguese team has widely received praise from pundits as “the start of the golden generation” with young players like Joao Felix, Diogo Costa, Gonçalo Ramos, Rafael Leao, Nuno Mendes, Ruben Dias, Diogo Dalot, and Vitinha among others. The young talents have emerged at a time when their most capped player and all-time top goal scorer, Cristiano Ronaldo, is nearing the end of his career.
Portugal started this campaign with a 3-2 win over Ghana and gained progression to the round of sixteen after a 2-0 victory over Uruguay. They fell with a score of 2-1 at the hands of South Korea in the last group fixture after resting some key players such as Bruno Fernandes.
Portugal then went on to wallop Switzerland 6-1 in the round of sixteen after dropping Cristiano Ronaldo to the bench. The 37-year-old was replaced by 21-year-old Gonçalo Ramos, who went on to bag a hat-trick. Portugal will face Morocco at Al-Thumama Stadium on Saturday in the quarter-final fixture.
France was one of the four European teams that participated in the inaugural World Cup edition in 1930 held in Uruguay. They have won the cup twice—in 1998 when they defeated Brazil 3-0 on home soil and in 2018 when they beat Croatia 4-2 in Moscow. Les Bleus have been runners-up once—in 2006, second runners-up twice in 1958 and 1986, and third runners-up once in 1982.
France came to Qatar as the defending champions, but they had to break the defending champions curse. The hex was that the holders of the World Cup on ignominious circumstances fail to defend their crown by not getting out of their group. It started in 2002 with France in Asia and ended in 2022 again with France in Asia when they topped their group.
Les Bleus are aiming at winning the World Cup back-to-back, a rare feat that has only been achieved by two teams—Italy (1934, 1938) and Brazil (1958,1962).
Having defeated Poland 3-1 with Kylian Mbappe’s brace and Olivier Giroud’s record-breaking fifty-second goal, France will come to grips with England on Saturday in a mouth-watering fixture at Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor.
Football‘s modern origins began in Britain more than a hundred years ago, but England has won the World Cup only once. This was in 1966 when the team defeated West Germany 4-2 when they hosted the tournament.
The Three Lions, as the English team is otherwise known, first participated in the World Cup in 1950 when they rejoined FIFA after having left in 1928. Previously, England considered itself too good to play in the World Cup, but this came to test in 1934, when they played the reigning world champions Italy in a friendly match they referred to as the “Real World Cup Final.” Soon after, it was referred to as the “Battle of Highbury” due to its high level of violence and rough play.
Since 1950, England has entered all eighteen subsequent tournaments, failing to qualify for the finals on three occasions (1974, 1978, 1994).
They came in this year’s edition as the 2018 third runners-up and began with a 6-2 victory over Iran, registering a goalless draw with USMNT and sealing progression to the round of sixteen with a 3-0 win over British rivals Wales.
The English defeated African champions Senegal in the round of sixteen to earn a place in the last eight with a 3-0 victory.
England will entertain France at Al-Bayt Stadium on Saturday in the last quarter-final fixture.
Teams that didn’t live up to their expectations in the World Cup
FIFA President Gianni Infantino had praised the group stage of the Qatar World Cup as the “best ever.” He added that “there are no more small teams and no more big teams. The level is very, very equal. For the first time as well, national teams from all continents [are] going to the knockout phase, for the first time in history. This shows that football is really becoming truly global.”
It was indeed a group stage to remember for “calculations” going into the last group fixtures. It was also the first time that no team registered the maximum points (9).
The first shock of this tournament came on November 22nd when Saudi Arabia remarkably defeated Argentina 2-1 at Lusail Iconic Stadium. Saudi Arabia had only won thrice in the World Cup and once in the last twenty-eight years. They defeated Argentina, the tournament favorite that had gone unbeaten for thirty-six games.
This was followed with an avalanche of unexpected results with teams like Germany, Uruguay, Mexico, Denmark, and Germany failing to make it out of the first round.
What went wrong?
The German team is one of the most successful national teams at the FIFA World Cup having won four titles and earned second-place and third-place finishes four times each. They also once finished fourth.
Considering third place or better for a winning campaign, Germany’s twelve victories in twenty tournaments add up to at least three more than any other nation. In addition, Germany is the only team that has stood on the podium (3rd place or better) every decade there was a tournament held—the 1930s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s.
However, this year, Germany was knocked out of the World Cup in the group stage for the second consecutive tournament. They were drawn into Group E with Spain, Japan, and Costa Rica. The campaign started with a shock 2–1 defeat to Japan. Despite leading in the first half with a penalty goal, second-half goals from Ritsu Dōan and Takuma Asano drove Japan to a crucial win.
The National Eleven then drew 1–1 with Spain, which had walloped Costa Rica 7-0 in their first fixture. Despite a 4–2 win over Costa Rica, Germany failed to progress due to Japan’s win over Spain. They needed to defeat Costa Rica by a margin of seven goals to proceed at the expense of their European rivals.
Belgium’s “golden generation,” as the team is also known, failed to live up to their expectations in 2022. Having finished third in 2018, the Red Devils arrived in Qatar hoping for the best with the inclusion of young players like Jeremy Doku, Lois Openda, Amadou Onana, and Youri Tielemans. However, they managed to collect only four points. These weren’t enough to go through ahead of Morocco and Croatia, which had collected seven and five points, respectively.
When asked about Belgium’s chances in winning the World Cup, Manchester City star Kevin De Bruyne stated, “No chance, we’re too old.” Team captain Eden Hazard stated that “to be fair I think we had a better chance to win four years ago (in 2018).” The former echoed these sentiments, stating “I think our chance was 2018. We have a good team, but it is aging.” Spanish coach Roberto Martínez resigned following the match after six years with the team. A few days later, Captain Eden Hazard also announced his retirement from the national team.