And then there were eight.
The 2022 FIFA World Cup continues to dwindle to its closing stages, and next up is the quarterfinals where eight nations remain.
Brazil, England, France, Argentina, Portugal, Netherlands, Morocco and Croatia are all in the mix for World Cup glory, but each have tough matchups looming in order to make dreams turn into reality.
But among the four matchups, which ones should make for the best viewing? Let’s take a shot at ranking them all:
4. Brazil vs. Croatia
It feels a bit strange to place FIFA’s top-ranked team as the lowest of the four, but it’s not entirely Brazil’s fault. Croatia comes into the game as the 2018 runner-up, but that title has not held much substance so far in 2022. The Vatreni were held to a scoreless draw against Morocco in their Group F opener, beat Canada 4-1 and had another goalless tie against Belgium. Then in the round of 16 against Japan, they needed penalties to win after a 1-1 tie through regulation and extra time. The 4-1 is the outlier overperformance in front of goal, otherwise Croatia haven’t lived up to previous standards.
That lack of scoring could play a factor against a Brazilian side that has largely held firm in their defensive third. Brazil did not concede a goal or a shot on target with its A-team against Serbia and Switzerland, and the Seleção cruised to a 4-1 win over South Korea in the round of 16. All four goals came in the first half, and South Korea’s lone goal was a stunner from outside the box that partially deflected off a defender’s back. This will no doubt be a solid game from the neutral perspective, but it comes in last.
3. Portugal vs. Morocco
The 2022 darkhorse will be looking to create more magic in its first ever quarterfinal appearance. Morocco has been the team of destiny so far in Qatar after topping a Group F that comprised Croatia, Belgium and Canada. The Atlas Lions then upset Spain in penalty kicks after holding La Furia Roja to a scoreless draw through regulation and extra time. The concern for Morocco will be scoring enough goals to topple Portugal. Yes, the only goal they conceded in Qatar was an own goal against Canada, but goals also win games and you need to create chances to get those. Bar Qatar, Morocco is 31st in expected goals in the tournament and will need another flawless defensive performance to beat Portugal.
Portugal, on the other hand, are coming off a dominant 6-1 rout over Switzerland where Gonçalo Ramos scored the tournament’s first hat trick after getting the starting nod over Cristiano Ronaldo. The move by manager Fernando Santos sparked the team’s creativity with the ball and their end product in the final third, something they lacked with Ronaldo starting during group play.
Portugal also have the advantage of rest as Santos subbed off his best players with time to spare, whereas Morocco will have fitness issues after 120 minutes of mostly defending. Center backs Nayef Aguerd and Romain Saïss most notably dealt with lower-leg issues late in the game. Does Morocco have one more upset in store?
2.Argentina vs. netherlands
Two renowned international powerhouses will be going at it in what should be a tight affair. Argentina bounced back with two straight wins in Group C to finish in first after a stunning loss to Saudi Arabia before getting past Australia 2-1 in the round of 16. But that also reveals La Albiceleste’s main problem: They haven’t yet resembled a title-contending group. Besides Lionel Messi’s moments of magic and two clutch goals from once-backup striker Julian Álvarez, Argentina have looked highly susceptible to defeat. This will no doubt be their toughest challenge yet.
The Netherlands have also been an elite team on paper that has yet to assemble a convincing win in Qatar. It took the Dutch 84 minutes to score against Senegal, had just one shot on target in a 1-1 draw to Ecuador and managed just a 2-0 win over Qatar that should’ve been more. They beat the US 3-1, but results don’t always paint the full picture. The Oranje may have a star-studded defense, but if it wasn’t for Cody Gakpo breaking out in front of goal, they’re another powerhouse teetering the edge of the cliff. One of the two will see their flaws be their demise in each of their biggest games yet.
1.England vs. France
This is, by far, the best matchup Qatar has offered – at least on paper. England have relatively cruised through the tournament with a 6-2 win over Iran and 3-0 victories over Wales and Senegal. The only issue the Three Lions faced was a 0-0 draw against the US, and manager Gareth Southgate will have his hands full with Kylian Mbappé now looming. The bright side is that Harry Kane has not shouldered the entire scoring burden. Bukayo Saka and Marcus Rashford each have three goals to their name, and Jude Bellingham is showing his world-class talent in the middle of the pitch at just 19 years old. Other than Brazil, England have been the second most-balanced team in Qatar, but the defense – especially right back Kyle Walker – will need to be on point.
France are the defending champions and definitely deserve their share of praise. But the squad has suffered from multiple injuries in the build up to the tournament and are currently relying on Mbappé to carry the goalscoring load from the left wing. His quick bursts and acceleration in open space has caused defenders all sorts of fits thus far, but remove him from the equation and Les Bleus are there for the taking. It’s not a coincidence that the only time he didn’t start, France lost 1-0 to Tunisia. Can his individual brilliance of him keep leading the way, or will someone else get their moment?