We are waiting on two teams to qualify for the World Cup quarterfinals, but six have already booked their places in the last eight. Who are they and how did they get there?
When: Friday, December 9, 10 a.m. ET
Where: Education City Stadium
Perhaps the weakest team on paper in the quarterfinals, Croatia looks like a side struggling to reclaim the control that took it all the way to the final in 2018. The team was held comfortably by Morocco in the group stages, was very lucky to draw with Belgium and had to rely on penalties to beat Japan in the last 16..
For any other team, that would be a worry. But Croatia has shown that it is the master of navigating matches that go down to the wire. All three of its knockout games in 2018 went to extra-time or penalties, but in every one of those, the Croatians looked like the side in control.
That experience was on show against Japan. Like its semifinal victory over England four years ago, this was a game in which Croatia looked stronger and stronger as the game went on. That tournament experience and nous will be put to the test as Kockasti face a Brazil team that looks every bit as good as its pre-tournament tag as favorite would suggest.
Morocco 0-0 Croatia
Croatia 4-1 Canada
Croatia 0-0 Belgium
Round of 16:
Croatia 1-1 Japan (Croatia won 3-1 on penalties)
A Seleção, for the first time in 20 years, looks as good as fans expect. The five-time world champion comfortably beat stubborn European opponent, Serbia, before giving the first team a rest against Cameroon. But against South Korea, the world saw what this team is truly capable of.
Within the first seven minutes, Brazil had already won the match and brought jogo bonito (the beautiful game) back to the World Cup, scoring for fun. Neymar – after missing the final two group stage matches through injury – was back again and playing with a freedom that the star has rarely been able to exhibit in the green and gold shirt.
Brazil will once again be heavy favorite as it faces Croatia, but manager Tite and his team will not be underestimating its opponent. For the last 16 years, Brazil has come to tournaments with hype before crashing out against European opponents in the knockout stages. But this team looks like it could be the first since 2002 to bring the World Cup trophy back to its spiritual home.
Brazil 2-0 Serbia
Brazil 1-0 Switzerland
Cameroon 1-0 Brazil
Round of 16:
Brazil 4-1 South Korea
When: Friday, December 9, 2 p.m. ET
Where: Lusail Stadium
In what is expected to be the last tournament of Louis van Gaal’s stellar career, the Netherlands manager is looking to replicate his 2010 accomplishment of reaching the final of the World Cup – and maybe going one step further this time.
Lacking the stars of 2014, the Dutch have been a far more practical side, only conceding two goals so far in the tournament. But that did not stop it from scoring one of the goals of the tournament against the US. The team strung 20 passes together in a picturesque advertisement of the beautiful game before Memphis Depay stroked the ball home.
The Netherlands had arguably the easiest path to the quarterfinal stage, and their resilience will be tested as they play a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina.
Senegal 0-2 Netherlands
Netherlands 1-1 Ecuador
Netherlands 2-0 Qatar
Round of 16:
Netherlands 3-1 United States
In its first game of the tournament, Argentina suffered arguably the biggest upset in World Cup history as Messi and co. lost to Saudi Arabia. But since then, La Albiceleste has kicked into gear, comfortably winning its last three games.
In what is likely his final World Cup, Messi has slowly grown into the tournament, but against Australia he showed glimpses of why he is widely considered to be the best to grace the game. He scored a trademark goal against Australia, curling home a finish with irresistible ease, and was at his creative best as time and time again he created chances for his teammates.
This is arguably the least glamorous Argentina squad of the 21st century, but Lionel Scaloni’s side has a functional system that has served the team well. Like the Netherlands, Argentina is facing its biggest test of the tournament.
Argentina 1-2 Saudi Arabia
Argentina 2-0 Mexico
Poland 0-2 Argentina
Round of 16:
Argentina 2-1 Australia Cup
When: Saturday, December 10, 2 p.m. ET
Where: Al Bayt Stadium
The Three Lions have had the best start of any team in Qatar, keeping three clean sheets and dispatching African champion Senegal with ease in the last 16. Which begs the question: is this the best England team since 1966, when it last won thee World?
Under Gareth Southgate, England has become a tournament specialist, playing functional football and restricting its abundance of attacking talent in favor of defensive solidity. But against Senegal, fans were treated to a glimpse of what this England attack can do when given the space and opportunity.
With the addition of Jude Bellingham to the midfield, England is now playing like one of the best teams in the world, adding goals to a staunch defense. The one criticism of arguably England’s best ever manager is that Southgate struggles against superior opponents. There is no greater test of that theory than facing France in the quarterfinals.
England 6-2 Iran
England 0-0 United States
Wales 0-3 England
Round of 16:
England 3-0 Senegal
After a shaky first half against Australia, the French have quickly dispelled any of the pre-tournament concerns that they would follow the previous three World Cup champions and make a group-stage exit.
Les Bleus have looked irresistible at times, and bar their second-string team losing a dead rubber to Tunisia, the team looks every bit as good as the one that dominated Russia in 2018. Olivier Giroud has become France’s all-time top scorer, Aurélien Tchouaméni and Adrien Rabiot have filled the Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté shaped hole in midfield, and forward Antione Griezmann looks back to his best.
But this team is all about one man: Kylian Mbappé. The PSG forward has looked irresistible and the best player at the tournament. Whether he is sitting defenders down, or curling in stunning goals, it looks like no one on the planet has the tools to cope with the mercurial talent.
France faces its neighbor from across the Channel next, but for England to pass into the semifinals, it will have to find a way to stop the world’s best player.
France 4-1 Australia
France 2-1 Denmark
Tunisia 1-0 France
Round of 16:
France 3-1 Poland