2022 FIFA World Cup: Quarterfinals Preview
Then, there were eight. The 2022 FIFA World Cup Round of 16 has been completed and the big dogs took over the show. Thanks to that, we now have four very exciting matches set up for the World Cup Quarterfinals.
In the Round of 16, there was one major upset with Morocco beating Spain. Otherwise, the favorites advanced. The quarterfinal matchups give us some tasty fixtures capped off by England vs. France. They get underway on Friday, Dec. 9, and end on Saturday, Dec. 10 with two matches on each day.
Croatia vs. Brazil – Friday, Dec. 9
Croatia finished second in their group, but that may have been a blessing with Japan winning the group they had to play in the Round of 16.
In that match, it was very close and headed to penalties after playing to a 1-1 draw through 120 minutes. Penalties were a theme for Croatia four years ago as they won both their Round of 16 and quarterfinal matches in a penalty shootout. The experience was noticeable against Japan with Croatia winning the penalty shootout 3-1. Japan was completely outclassed.
After a lackluster group stage, Brazil looked like the team that was the favorite ahead of the start of the 2022 World Cup. A large part of that is due to the return of Neymar to the Brazilian lineup. With him back leading the attack, Brazil ran all over South Korea jumping out to a 4-0 lead just 38 minutes in. They ended up winning 4-1, but it could have been much, much worse for the Asian side. There were four different goal scorers for Brazil and if they harness this momentum, not many teams will be able to stop them.
If Croatia is going to get past a Brazil team finding its groove, then controlling the tempo of play is essential. For that to happen, Luka Modrić will need to do what he is capable of. The midfield will be essential for a Croatia side that does not score all that much.
Brazil, on the other hand, needs to do what it did against South Korea and come out firing. In that match, they scored twice in the first 13 minutes. If they can put pressure on Croatia to keep up, then it should be a comfortable win for the South Americans because Croatia cannot keep up with Brazil’s attack when flowing.
I fear that Brazil has finally clicked offensively. That will lead to another big win against a Croatia side that has just one goal outside of a 4-1 win over poor Canada. Neymar will get on the scoresheet again and lead Brazil to a 3-1 victory.
The Netherlands vs. Argentina – Friday, Dec. 9
This is one of the marquee matchups of the quarterfinals. We get two of the better teams in the world going head-to-head with stars playing all over the field. The Netherlands took care of the United States rather easily, winning 3-1, but they were far more impressive than the score line suggested.
The Dutch completely outpowered the Americans after the first 20 or so minutes. Denzel Dumfries was excellent, scoring once and getting two assists. He was everywhere and his play will be essential in trying to control Lionel Messi and Argentina. The Dutch defense has also done well, conceding just two goals thus far in the 2022 World Cup. It could have been less but a lucky goal from Haji Wright got the U.S. on the scoresheet.
Argentina was less convincing in their Round of 16 match and needed a big save from Emiliano Martínez to beat Australia 2-1. The star of the show was, of course, Messi. The 35-year-old scored the first goal and made life very difficult for the Australian back line. In each of the last three matches, Argentina has scored twice, but just two of the six goals have come from Messi. Finally, he is getting help from his supporting cast and that makes Argentina more dangerous than ever.
The South American team is one of the favorites to win the 2022 World Cup, but a tough Dutch team has all the keys to stopping them. While Argentina has a very strong attack the Dutch defense is just as good. Anchored by Virgil van Dijk, the Dutch defense is ready for any challenge that Argentina sends its way. Limiting the chances that Messi and co get is key for the Netherlands, but they will need Memphis Depay and Cody Gakpo to take advantage of their chances if and when they come.
For Argentina to make it back to the semifinals, they will need a team effort and Messi to step up on the big stage. Julián Álvarez has scored twice in the last two matches and is stepping up into the No. 2 role behind the captain. If he can get on the scoresheet again this would give Argentina a long way to advancing.
Argentina has turned around completely since their 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia to open up their 2022 World Cup campaign. They look like a different team with Álvarez in the lineup and will cause the Netherlands a significant amount of trouble. For the Dutch defense, this will be their biggest test thus far and I have a feeling the three defensemen will break. I have Argentina winning 2-1 to advance to the semifinal and set up a grudge match with archrival Brazil.
Morocco vs Portugal – Saturday, Dec. 10
Morocco is the last African team still playing in the 2022 World Cup and now carries the weight of a continent on its shoulders.
They became the fourth African team to advance to the Quarterfinals by upsetting Spain on penalties in the Round of 16. In that match, Spain dominated Morocco with 77% possession, but the Moroccan defense did not break and collected their third clean sheet of this World Cup.
Achraf Hakimi and Romain Saïss have been stellar in the back, with the only goal scored against Morocco being an own goal. The hero of the penalty shootout was goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, who denied Spain from scoring at all in the shootout. Bounou made two saves after Spain’s first shot hit the post and led Morocco to a 3-0 win in the penalty shootout. Offensively, Hakim Ziyech has shown us a glimpse into what he is capable of and can cause trouble to the aging backline of Portugal with his speed.
The big story from Portugal’s 6-1 thrashing of Switzerland was the benching of Cristiano Ronaldo. However, his replacement stepped up in a big way. 21-year-old Gonçalo Ramos bagged himself a hattrick against the Swiss and almost guaranteed his starting spot against Morocco.
Anytime a team scores six times, things are going their way and that was true against Switzerland but may not be the same against a strong Moroccan defense. Fortunately for Portugal, Bruno Fernandes has been playing very well in Qatar and will orchestrate the Portuguese attack.
For Morocco to win this match and become the first African team to play in a World Cup Semifinal, their defense will be key. Portugal is the joint top scorer with 12 goals — tied with England — and has found scoring depth. Hakimi will need to be a pain in attack with his pace and help create scoring chances while also getting back defensively which we have seen him do this World Cup.
As far as Portugal go, they will need to use all their scoring options to break down the Moroccan defense that has allowed the least number of goals so far. The defense will need to do their job and not let the Moroccans use speed to their advantage.
Morocco was my dark horse of the 2022 World Cup in our Vendetta World Cup roundtable, and I think their speed and strength in defense will be able to slow down the new-look attack from Portugal. I believe that the pressure will get to Portugal as Morocco has nothing to lose. I have Morocco winning 1-0 after extra time.
England vs. France – Saturday, Dec. 10
Two of the world’s top teams face off in the final 2022 World Cup quarterfinal match.
England has been scoring at will with 12 goals so far. They put three past a Senegal defense that has multiple Premier League starters en route to a 3-0 win.
The big thing for England from their Round of 16 match is that Harry Kane has found his scoring boots. The golden boot winner from four years ago had yet to score at the 2022 World Cup, but finally got his goal against Senegal. If this jumpstarts Kane to what he did in 2018, then England becomes even more dangerous in attack. The English defense has also stepped up and held their last three opponents scoreless.
Sometimes it is one player that can win a match though, and France has that player in Kylian Mbappé. The young forward has five goals already at the 2022 World Cup and does not look like he will stop scoring anytime soon. He scored twice against Poland in a 3-1 Round of 16 win. Olivier Giroud stepped up for France once again against the Poles getting his national record-breaking 52nd goal. Defensively against Poland, France held strong but conceded a late penalty that ended the shutout.
By far the biggest test for each team so far, the plan is simple: Somehow stop the other team’s attack from getting going. England has just as many talented and dangerous forwards as France does, which means that the French backline will have to be strong.
For France to control, they will also need the makeshift midfield to step up. Without N’Golo Kanté and Paul Pogba, France has been playing Aurélien Tchouaméni and Adrien Rabiot in midfield. Rabiot has a goal and an assist while Tchouaméni has yet to contribute directly to a goal.
For England to get back to their third consecutive semifinal at a major tournament, they will need to find a way to slow down Mbappé. Kyle Walker is the defender that will likely be tasked with covering Mbappé. He has the most pace of any English defender and has returned to form following his injury issue this season.
The other question for England will be if Raheem Sterling features against France. The forward missed the Round of 16 match due to personal reasons that forced him back to England, but he is back in Qatar. Sterling just adds another element to this strong English attack that has featured eight different goalscorers.
After this World Cup, we may be calling Mbappé the best player in the world — sorry Erling Haaland. He will be on full display against England, and I am worried the English defense will not be able to slow him down without allowing chances to others. I have France winning this in a thriller 3-2.
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