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2022 FIFA World Cup

After the group stage, Kylian Mbappe is a tied for the leader in goals, and France look primed to make a run at the 2022 FIFA World Cup. (Photo by Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)

2022 FIFA World Cup: Round of 16 Preview

2022 FIFA World Cup
After the group stage, Kylian Mbappe is a tied for the leader in goals, and France look primed to make a run at the 2022 FIFA World Cup. (Photo by Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)

2022 FIFA World Cup: Round of 16 Preview

The group stage at the 2022 FIFA World Cup is over and all the matchups are set for the Round of 16. There was plenty of action and several shocks including 2014 champions, Germany, and the second-ranked team in the world, Belgium, both being knocked out in the group stage. 

Looking ahead to the Round of 16, some matches look like they could be very one-sided, including Argentina vs. Australia. However, there are plenty of others that could give us some high-paced action and excitement.

No matter what the matchups are, this 2022 World Cup Round of 16 should have fans around the world excited. Of the 16 teams, eight are from Europe, three are from the Americas and Asia (Australia plays in Asia), and two are from Africa.

The Netherlands vs. the United States – Saturday, Dec. 3

In the group stage, the Netherlands showed their strength by finishing top of Group A with two wins and a draw. In their opening match, the “Oranje” showed a strong backline shutting out Senegal on way to a 2-0 victory. This was the same result that they had against Qatar in their last group-stage match. The only blemish on the Netherlands’ record was a 1-1 draw against Ecuador. 

While the defense has been a solid unit, the offense has been run through a single player. That is Cody Gakpo. The young PSV forward is tied atop the race for the golden boot with three goals. The 2022 FIFA World Cup has been a breakout tournament for Gakpo, who will be lined up for a big move to one of Europe’s top teams in the near future. 

Gakpo has become a star for the Netherlands, but the midfield as a whole for the United States has looked like one of the better groups in the tournament. Made up of Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah, and newly named captain Tyler Adams, the midfield has controlled play for the “Stars and Stripes” against all three opponents they faced in Group B. In the group, the U.S. finished second with five points from a win and two draws. It took beating Iran on the last day to secure a place in the Round of 16.

Outside of the midfield, the United States will be reliant on Dutch-born defenseman Sergiño Dest to control the backline and Christian Pulisic to lead the American attack. 

The key matchup here will be that of the midfield with the American trio going up against a strong group that includes Frenkie de Jong, ​​Denzel Dumfries, and Davy Klaassen. The latter has been great for the Dutch with a goal and two assists so far at the 2022 World Cup. 

Prediction

I think the experience and strength of the Netherlands will be just too much for the young American team. If this was happening in four years, I’m taking the United States no doubt, but it is not. There just is nothing in the United States’ attack that shows me that they will be able to score against a strong Dutch defense. I have the Netherlands winning 2-0.

Argentina vs. Australia – Sunday, Dec. 4

Following a shock defeat in their opening match of the 2022 World Cup to Saudi Arabia, Argentina returned to the form that we expected to see them in. They won both of their next two matches against Mexico and Poland by a score of 2-0. The shutout wins showed that the 2-1 loss to the Saudis was a freak loss and that “The White and Sky Blue” are still here to win. By winning twice, Argentina finished first in Group C with six points.

As always Lionel Messi has shown up on the world’s biggest stage with two goals, he did have a penalty saved against Poland though. Unlike in past World Cups, Messi has had some support in the attack with three other players scoring goals so far. It looked like Lautaro Martínez was going to be the striker, but after a tough first two matches, Argentina turned to the youngster Julián Álvarez. In his first start against Poland, the 22-year-old scored to give Argentina a 2-0 lead.

One of the surprise teams at the 2022 World Cup has been Australia, who needed to beat the favored Denmark in their last group stage match to secure a Round of 16 berth. The “Socceroos” finished second in Group D on goal difference after tying France in points with 6. There were not many people that gave them a shot to make the Round of 16, except our own Jarrod Prosser who called this in our Vendetta Sports World Cup roundtable

After a 4-1 spanking from France, the Aussies locked it down and beat both Tunisia and then Denmark 1-0. While there may not be any huge stars on this side, Aaron Mooy is playing the best football of his life and the team fears no one. 

On paper, this looks easy for Argentina, but after playing against some of the world’s more dangerous teams, Australia will not back down from Messi and Co. Expect a very tight and aggressive match from Australia against a far more skilled team.

Prediction

This match could go one of two ways, Australia continue to surprise and lose a close one or maybe steal a late win as they did against Tunisia. Or Argentina will come out and spank the “Socceroos” just like France did in the opener. I have a feeling that the latter will be the case. I like Messi to score a brace and lead Argentina to a 3-0 win.

Japan vs. Croatia – Monday, Dec. 5

As big of a shock as it was to see Australia advance to the 2022 World Cup Round of 16, it was even more surprising to see Japan make it. In a group with Spain and Germany, Japan came from behind twice to beat both European giants and win Group E. The two matches were nearly identical with “Samurai Blue” trailing 1-0 at halftime before scoring twice and holding on for legendary wins. Japan, however, lost to Costa Rica surprisingly. 

This Japanese side is very well disciplined defensively with Maya Yoshida being a stud while captaining his side. On the attacking side, Ritsu Doan leads the team with two goals at the 2022 World Cup. However, it has been the expert choice in substitutes that have propelled Japan thus far. Against Spain, Doan came on at halftime and scored just three minutes later. Then in the upset of Germany, he came off the bench and scored the equalizer while Takuma Asano also was a second-half substitute before scoring the winner for Japan. 

Croatia did not have the most eventful group stage with two 0-0 draws coming against Morocco and Belgium. The difference for “The Vatreni” was a 4-1 win over Canada. In the win, Andrej Kramaric scored twice while Ivan Perisic had two assists. 

Just like four years ago Croatia was led by Luka Modric. Once again Modric has shown why he is considered one of the best midfielders in the sport. He has orchestrated the Croatian attack while being a menace defensively, tracking back and causing issues for opposing attacks. 

This is an interesting matchup between two teams that have different styles of play. Japan is more of a counter-attacking team that holds a very strong defensive line. Croatia on the other hand is a possession team that likes to pass the ball around to find the best opportunity.

Prediction

Japan has shown a very good ability to win matches without having much possession. Against Spain, they won with just 17.7% possession and could very well see a low possession against Croatia. The issue for Croatia is that with an aging squad they are not as quick as Japan and that could be an issue. I have Japan winning this 2-1.

Brazil vs. South Korea – Monday, Dec. 5

The favorite to win the 2022 World Cup before the competition started was Brazil. They have not looked as good as expected with just three goals so far. There has been a major drop-off in chance creation since Neymar was injured. They still managed to win Group G despite losing their first group stage match since 1998. Their loss this year came in a surprising 1-0 defeat when they played mostly backups.

While it has not been looking great for Brazil so far, they should be getting their superstar back for the Round of 16. When playing to their full ability with a flowing attack Brazil can be the best team in the world and the most fun to watch.

South Korea has been one of the most entertaining teams to watch, even in their 0-0 draw with Uruguay there could have been five or six goals. On the last day, they moved into second place to advance to the Round of 16. 

The scary thing about South Korea is that their star Son Heung-min has not even played his best football yet. Son has yet to score but assisted on South Korea’s clinching goal. The player that has come out of nowhere is striker Cho Guesung. In a 3-2 loss to Ghana, Cho scored twice to turn a 2-0 deficit into an equal game. As a result of his performance, Cho has become a star and went from 48,000 followers on Instagram to over 1.5 million. 

Prediction

Brazil with Neymar is a scary thing and that could be on display against South Korea. I think Son will have his best game at the 2022 World Cup, but South Korea has been in high-scoring matches recently. This is something that Brazil could take advantage of. I think this is the match where Brazil’s offense explodes. I have them winning 3-1.

England vs. Senegal – Sunday, Dec. 4

England had two very good matches in the group stage but looked lost on the pitch against the United States in a 0-0 draw. The 6-2 win against Iran and 3-0 win over Wales were enough for “The Three Lions” to win Group B. 

It was the youth that helped England progress to the Round of 16. Jude Bellingham looks like he will be a star for England for a long time due to his great play in the midfield at only 19 years of age. Phil Foden (22) finally started a World Cup match against Wales and scored while also drawing the foul that set up Marcus Rashford’s freekick goal. Rashford was another player that really stood out for England. After a brutal penalty miss in the 2020 European Championships final that England lost, Rashford has bounced back incredibly at the 2022 FIFA World Cup with three goals.

Senegal is without their star player Sadio Mane, which is a huge loss. That did not stop the “Lions of Teranga” from advancing to the Round of 16 for the first time since 2002. That year they made it to the quarterfinals before falling out. At the 2022 World Cup, it took a late winner from captain Kalidou Koulibaly to beat Ecuador in the last match and advance.

Without Mane, this Senegal team has not had any individual player take over. It has been very much a team effort with all the pieces working perfectly together like a watch. The play of Édouard Mendy has also helped significantly. A lot of credit has to be given to Senagalese manager Aliou Cissé for this team effort. Cissé captained Senegal to their 2002 run.

This feels like a trap game for England. Senegal is a very good team that is well-coached and experienced in playing knockout-stage football with each other. 

Prediction

Somehow the 2018 golden boot winner, Harry Kane, has yet to score for England. This is the time for big-time players to step up and I think that is what Kane will do. While being very confident as a team, Senegal will also be without Idrissa Gueye who is suspended after picking up two yellow cards in the group stage. I have England winning a nervy one 2-1 after extra time.

France vs. Poland – Sunday, Dec. 4

France has looked by far one of the best teams at the 2022 FIFA World Cup. They won their opener vs Australia 4-1 and then beat dark horse candidate Denmark 2-1. They did lose 1-0 to Tunisia, but that was with a majority backup squad. There is no doubt that “Les Bleus” could become the first repeat champions since Brazil won two straight in 1958 and 1962.

Four years ago Kylian Mbappe took the world by storm as a 19-year-old, helping France win the 2018 World Cup. He is now 23 and only improved since then. In the group stage, Mbappe scored three goals and collected one assist. He now has seven World Cup goals which are more than both Thierry Henry and Zinedine Zidane. 

Poland nearly did not advance to the Round of 16, but a late goal by Saudi Arabia against Mexico guaranteed the Poles’ spot despite falling to Argentina. It was not pretty but Poland managed to advance with a win and a draw giving them just enough to get through. 

The main man for “Orły” has been Robert Lewandowski, who finally scored a goal in the World Cup. There has been somewhat of a lack of help around Lewandowski on the offensive end. However, Wojciech Szczęsny has been incredible in net with 16 saves including two penalty saves, one from Messi. If it wasn’t for Szczęsny then Poland would already have been on a flight back to Warsaw.

Prediction

France has been balling out so far while it has been quite the opposite for Poland. I see Poland’s attacking struggles continue and France will take advantage of that. I have France winning 3-0 to move on to the quarterfinals. 

Morocco vs. Spain – Tuesday, Dec. 6

Along with Japan, Morocco is a surprise group winner. “The Atlas Lions” managed to win Group F ahead of Croatia and Belgium, the two heavy favorites to do so. Group play got off to a dull start for Morocco at the 2022 FIFA World up who drew 0-0 with Croatia, but they then went out and dominantly beat Belgium 2-0. Morocco closed out their group stage with a 2-1 win over Canada.

This is my dark horse team of the tournament because they have speed that nearly no one can match at both ends of the field. In defense, there is the incredible Achraf Hakimi who has been part of a unit that’s only goal conceded was an own goal. There are not many players that can compete with Hakimi as he has shown at PSG. At the other end of the pitch, Hakim Ziyech has improved with every match as has Youseff En-Nesyri.

It was a very good start for Spain, who won 7-0 in their opening match against Costa Rica. Since then they drew with Germany and blew it against Japan. It may be a slight concern that “La Roja” used up all their scoring ability in their first match. Thanks to the strong start Spain were able to edge past Germany on goal difference to advance to the Round of 16.

The youthful takeover of Spain has begun and has been quite impressive. Gavi (18) and Pedri (20) have looked like two of the best young midfielders with shades of Andrés Iniesta and Xavi. They will undoubtedly be the future of this Spanish team along with Ansu Fati. However, it has been Álvaro Morata that leads the scoring with three goals. This is more impressive since he has been a substitute in two matches.

Prediction

This could be the big upset of the Round of 16. Spain showed vulnerability to the counterattack against Japan and that is concerning due to the pace of Morocco. I really like this Morocco team and have them winning 2-1. 

Portugal vs. Switzerland – Tuesday, Dec. 6

Two wins in their first two matches clinched Portugal a spot in the Round of 16. They did end up losing their last 2022 World Cup group stage match 2-1 vs South Korea. Portugal barely escaped their opening match against Ghana with a win after Diogo Costa made a huge mistake that Inaki Williams could not take advantage of as he slipped.

The story surrounding Portugal is always Cristiano Ronaldo, but he has just one goal so far which was a penalty against Ghana. With that goal, he became the first player to ever score in five World Cups. The 2022 FIFA World Cup belongs to Bruno Fernandes. The midfielder has two goals and two assists in just two matches played. This has been a rejuvenated Fernandes that has struggled for Manchester United this season.

It came down to the last group game for Switzerland to clinch a spot in the Round of 16. They needed to beat Serbia to finish second and that is what they did. Had they scored one more goal against Serbia they would have won the group over Brazil. 

Breel Embolo leads the way with two goals. While Xherdan Shaqiri has a goal and an assist. The true star of this Swiss team has been goalkeeper Yann Sommer. Besides Szczęsny for Poland, Sommer has been the best goalkeeper. He has allowed just a single goal in his two matches. He missed Switzerland’s last group stage match because of illness, so that will be a big loss if he does not recover in time for this Round of 16 match.

Prediction

If healthy, Sommer can be the difference maker that Switzerland will need to slow down a strong attacking side in Portugal. Ronaldo only has one goal so far, but it is only a matter of time until that changes. This would be a good time for him to step up. I have Portugal winning 1-0.

***

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