The 2022 World Cup quarterfinals are right here. After an exhilarating group stage and roller-coaster spherical of 16, we’re into the enterprise finish of the event with eight groups remaining. There’s loads of star energy, nice matchups and high gamers who all have their eyes set on hoisting the trophy on Dec. 18.
The motion begins Dec. 9 with Croatia and Brazil kicking off. However earlier than the video games start, preview every group with key issues to observe, gamers to know and predictions from our ESPN writers.
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Friday, Dec. 9
Croatia vs. Brazil
Schooling Metropolis Stadium, Al Rayyan; 10 a.m. ET
Have they met not too long ago? That is their third assembly at a World Cup, although it is their first encounter within the knockout rounds. Brazil gained each prior conferences (1-0 in 2006, 3-1 in 2014).
Odds (by way of Caesars Sportsbook): CRO +750, BRA -295
One factor to find out about Croatia
Go away it to educate Zlatko Dalic to greatest sum up Croatia’s prospects towards Brazil: “The depth [Brazil] have of their squad is terrifying and so they’re the very best group at this World Cup. However I am going to additionally say they’d higher be ready after they face us, as a result of we now have nothing to worry. I am not saying it is a 50-50 recreation, however we aren’t outsiders both. After I have a look at Brazil, I feel they may wrestle to endure extended possession by their opponent, for instance.”
Dalic is aware of he has a midfield trio — Marcelo Brozovic, Mateo Kovacic and Luka Modric — that is long on experience and the sort of technical ability required to play keep-away and make the opponents chase you. He is proper too that none of Brazil’s opponents to date have tried to play possession soccer towards them.
It is one path to victory, nonetheless troublesome, and, after all, you’d need to mix it with the opposite: the chest-thumping grit that has outlined this Croatian group for a very long time and particularly beneath Dalic. Simply one in all Croatia’s final eight main event video games has didn’t go to further time or penalties (that was the World Cup remaining towards France in 2018). They might not at all times beat you, however they’re more likely to take you to the very restrict: bodily, mentally and emotionally.
Dalic’s present facet consists of the veterans who knocked out Denmark, hosts Russia (each on penalties) and England (in further time) on the final World Cup, plus a sprinkling of newcomers led by the spectacular masked defender Josko Gvardiol. As usually occurs with Croatia, the following technology is schooled within the lore of those that got here earlier than, so the newbies slot in seamlessly.
If Dalic is true, you will not see a lot celebratory dancing from Brazil. — Gabriele Marcotti
One factor to find out about Brazil
Brazil entered the event as favorites to take their report sixth trophy and with three video games to go, they’re nonetheless carrying that weight. Not that it has appeared to hassle them a lot — whether they’re dancing after goals or ripping apart an opponent so easily that they felt snug giving their third-choice goalkeeper an opportunity to play in a knockout match, this event hasn’t introduced a lot stress.
A few of that’s all the way down to a sort draw — bear in mind, France are taking part in England in one other quarterfinal — however a lot of it is because of Brazil’s unimaginable depth. Tite, Brazil’s coach, is aware of how lucky he’s to have a lot offensive expertise out there. His tenure with Brazil has been marked by a way of unease over his pragmatism (versus the jogo bonito Brazil is understood for) however at this event we have seen a very good little bit of each. Earlier than the ultimate group stage recreation with Cameroon — by which Tite rotated practically his whole group for the reason that consequence was meaningless — Brazil hadn’t confronted a single shot on objective, whereas within the round-of-16 match with South Korea, Brazil’s attacking stars confirmed off their firepower with 4 early targets that ended the sport after little greater than half an hour.
The names are staggering: Neymar, Richarlison, Vinicius Jr., Casemiro, Raphinha — the listing goes on. If there’s been a problem for Brazil, it’s injuries, although with Neymar again and Alex Sandro more likely to return on Friday, Brazil are pretty wholesome heading into the quarterfinals towards a Croatia squad that (gulp) went 120 minutes plus penalties in their first knockout game. — Sam Borden
One Croatia participant to know: Marcelo Brozovic
Brozovic combines two of the traits most prized in a central midfielder — work-rate and creativity — plus he has the stats to again them up. Towards Japan within the spherical of 16, he lined 16.7 kilometers — greater than 10 miles — breaking the report for distance lined in a World Cup recreation set by… Brozovic himself, towards England, 4 years in the past.
Most groups have a participant who can run all day in the course of the park the way in which he does. But it surely’s not at all times the case they’re additionally the group’s deep-lying playmaker, a task Brozovic fills for each Croatia and his membership facet, Inter Milan. Like some extent guard in basketball, aside from the odd counterattack or transition, nearly each attacking transfer passes via him sooner or later. Certainly, simply two midfielders left within the event — France’s Aurelien Tchouameni and Argentina’s Rodrigo De Paul — have made extra passes in open play than Brozovic.
It helps to be taking part in alongside two high quality midfielders like Kovacic and Modric — guys are more likely to get open, management the ball and, if want be, get it again to you — however the truth that Brozovic will even doubtless should be a defensive defend towards Brazil makes his job all of the extra necessary. On paper, Neymar, tucked in behind the centre-forward, shall be in his zone numerous the time and that is not a enjoyable journey for anybody. Then there are Lucas Paqueta‘s runs from deeper, plus the chance that Richarlison might drop into area or one of many centre-backs would possibly advance.
In different phrases, Brozovic shall be on the heart of the motion off the ball. And, on the ball, he’ll have to quarterback this group. Sound like numerous work? Not for any individual who does not thoughts overlaying 10 miles each recreation. — Marcotti
One Brazil participant to know: Richarlison
The straightforward reply right here is Neymar, however since just about everybody already is aware of him, let’s go together with Richarlison, who’s 25 years previous, performs for Tottenham Hotspur and has been one of the fascinations of this tournament, due to each his prowess across the objective and his pigeon-dance celebration. (If you have not seen Richarlison convey coach Tite into the routine, discover that video proper now.)
As younger Brazilian prospects go, Richarlison wasn’t particularly heralded, however he famously pressured his means onto Tite’s radar with some unexpectedly robust performances following the disappointing 2018 World Cup, and he has stayed there ever since.
What distinguishes Richarlison, although, is not his talent on the ball, however moderately his ending. Brazil have loads of gamers who’re artists, who can dribble it on a string or play the proper cross; Richarlison is extra of a poacher, a real striker. Search for him in entrance of the objective. Or dancing after he is put the ball within the internet. — Borden
Brazil 2-1 Croatia (after further time): Modric & Co. have the guile and grit to make the Selecao undergo, however high quality ought to win out. — Marcotti
Brazil 2-1 Croatia: In a event the place upsets are beginning to really feel just like the norm, it is tempting to suppose Croatia would possibly have the ability to pull this off and but… I do not suppose they’ll. Brazil are in type at simply the precise time, Croatia can have some fatigue to battle and the Selecao carry on rolling right here. — Borden
Steve Nicol says it’s important to go together with Lionel Messi when selecting between “evenly matched” Argentina and Netherlands forward of their World Cup conflict.
Netherlands vs. Argentina
Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail; 2 p.m. ET
Have they met not too long ago? That is their sixth assembly on the World Cup and solely Germany (7 occasions) have confronted Argentina extra on this event. Argentina have gained twice (1978 remaining, 2014 semifinals) and the Dutch have gained twice, (1974 group stage, 2-1 within the 1998 quarterfinal), with a 0-0 draw within the 2006 group stage.
Odds (by way of Caesars Sportsbook): NED +250, ARG +119
One factor to find out about Argentina
That is all about Lionel Messi. In soccer phrases, Messi’s pursuit of World Cup glory with Argentina is as shut as you will get to replicating Michael Jordan’s “Final Dance” with the Chicago Bulls. The 35-year-old has gained every little thing the sport has to supply — a number of league titles in Spain and France with Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, 4 Champions Leagues and the Copa America with Argentina final 12 months. However with out the World Cup, Messi’s roll of honour will at all times look like it is lacking one thing.
Some would possibly argue that Messi’s pursuit of the World Cup is not any totally different to Cristiano Ronaldo‘s with Portugal. Ronaldo has additionally gained every little thing bar the World Cup, however there’s a distinction with Messi in that Argentina count on to win the World Cup. They’re a large of world soccer in a means that Portugal by no means have been, and certain by no means shall be, given the scale of every nation.
And with Messi and Argentina, the shadow of Diego Maradona at all times looms massive. Maradona was the genius who nearly single-handedly carried Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986 and Messi has at all times been anticipated to do the identical. At 35, can Messi nonetheless do what Maradona did on the age of 25 at Mexico ’86?
To date in Qatar, Messi has delivered, scoring three targets and galvanizing Lionel Scaloni’s group into the quarterfinals, however at every stage, the strain intensifies. This Argentina squad lacks the depth of expertise of its predecessors, however with Messi and the group’s unimaginable supporters, the dream of a 3rd World Cup stays alive. — Mark Ogden
One factor to find out about Netherlands
Proper from the outset, supervisor Louis van Gaal, 71, has talked about profitable the World Cup. He’s doing it his way — and he does not care what others take into consideration him. He has confronted criticism again within the Netherlands because the group’s model of soccer is pragmatic, however he values event progress over reputation. He is inflexible in his 3-5-2 formation and the group’s model has been criticised because the Dutch are used to taking part in expansive, flowing Complete Soccer. But it surely’s working. Van Gaal has been a intelligent supervisor since he took cost of the Netherlands for the third time again in August 2021, and they’re 19 matches unbeaten beneath him.
They’re defensively astute — count on their again three and Frenkie de Jong to attempt to nullify Messi. They assault by funnelling the ball to the wings, utilizing their two attacking full-backs Denzel Dumfries and Daley Blind to offer them width. The midfielders fan out to attract the defenders away, and so they goal to get low crosses into the field for his or her two attackers to observe up on — take the first goal against the US; it was a masterclass.
In any Van Gaal group, there are three “inventive” gamers and eight “loyal” gamers. It is the soccer credo he has lived and died by over his 36-year managerial profession, and he hopes it’ll be enough to take them all the way here in Qatar. — Tom Hamilton
One Argentina participant to know: Julian Alvarez
Messi cannot carry Argentina on his personal — even Maradona had assist from world-class teammates in 1986. Julian Alvarez is arguably crucial member of the group after Messi, as a result of the Manchester City ahead is the one participant who could be relied upon to attain targets. The 22-year-old has scored twice at this World Cup and his tempo and motion make him a extra doubtless starter towards the Netherlands than Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martinez, who has struggled to make an impression to date throughout the event.
With the Dutch anticipated to attempt to comprise Argentina after which hit them on the break, Scaloni’s group will want Alvarez to benefit from any alternatives that come his means. His objective menace implies that the Netherlands can not simply concentrate on stopping Messi. — Ogden
One Netherlands participant to know: Frenkie de Jong
Cody Gakpo is getting loads of headlines right here with three targets in 4 video games and has been linked with a January transfer to Manchester United, whereas Memphis Depay is value keeping track of as their key striker. But when the Netherlands are to beat Argentina, they want defensive midfielder Frenkie de Jong on tune.
Louis van Gaal jokes about kissing Memphis Depay after Angel Di Maria labelled him because the worst supervisor he is labored with.
He controls the tempo of the group and is vital of their transitional play. He is the conduit between the group’s defence and the attacking third, however he will even have to keep watch over Messi and reduce down the passing lanes to Argentina’s star participant. He’ll function within the Netherlands’ midfield trio — doubtless alongside Davy Klaassen and Marten de Roon.
Count on De Jong to play as a No. 6 — simply in entrance of the defence — however to even have license to float ahead, with De Roon overlaying him. He has the flexibility to take an innocuous-looking place on the sphere and all of a sudden flip it right into a scoring alternative with one key ball. — Hamilton
Netherlands 1, Argentina 2 (after further time): Until Argentina rating early, this threatens to be a cagey recreation, with Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal pleased for his gamers to attempt to win the sport with a affected person passing recreation and probably by man-marking Messi. However Argentina possess the higher attacking gamers — although it won’t be settled till further time. — Ogden
Netherlands 1, Argentina 0 (after further time): I can see Netherlands profitable this. It might ultimately be on penalties, however I feel Van Gaal’s plan has labored to date, and only a few groups are going to have the nous and talent to interrupt them down. Argentina have not lived as much as their standing as one of many pre-tournament favourites, and if the Dutch can efficiently get this match goalless to concerning the 70-minute mark, they’ll see it out. — Hamilton
Saturday, Dec. 10
Morocco vs. Portugal
Al Thumama Stadium, Doha; 10 a.m. ET
Have they met not too long ago? The 2 sides have met twice earlier than in World Cup play, each occasions coming throughout the group stage. Morocco gained 3-1 after they clashed in 1986, whereas Portugal edged their 2018 assembly 1-0.
Odds (by way of Caesars Sportsbook): MOR +440, POR -150
One factor to find out about Morocco
After turning into the primary African nation to advance to the World Cup spherical of 16 in 1986, the Atlas Lions are once more on the verge of historical past. A win towards Portugal would make them the primary African group to succeed in the semifinals, after Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010) all misplaced within the quarterfinals. Every of the opposite seven remaining groups has reached the semifinals since 2006, and all however Portugal superior that far in both 2014 or 2018.
If the Cinderella story continues, it will be because coach Walid Regragui has installed an effective defend-and-counter style that none of their opponents — Croatia, Belgium, Canada and Spain — have come near fixing. The one objective they’ve given up in these 4 matches was an personal objective towards Canada, which got here when Morocco had a two-goal cushion. Spain wasn’t even able to beat goalkeeper Yassine Bounou in penalties.
It is a markedly totally different model than that of the opposite remaining groups. Morocco’s 32.8% possession within the event is by far the bottom of the eight groups left (the Netherlands are subsequent at 53.4%). Though that is not essentially a barrier to success, it’s a contributing consider Morocco’s incapacity to create a lot of an assault.
Morocco’s targets (4), xG (3.08), photographs (30), photographs on objective (10), photographs on course share (33.3) and minutes per objective (97.5) all rank final among the many quarterfinalists. But it surely’s not like conceding all that possession has put Bounou into a lot motion, both — solely Argentina have allowed fewer photographs on objective. What’s occurred is that Morocco video games have been performed away from the penalty areas. — Kyle Bonagura
Steve Nicol and Stewart Robson are doubtful that Cristiano Ronaldo’s feedback about Portugal profitable the World Cup are actually real.
One factor to find out about Portugal
Portugal have injected actual function into their World Cup marketing campaign with the 6-1 win over Switzerland in the last 16 and it is largely down to educate Fernando Santos. The 68-year-old, in cost since 2014, has largely exhausted the credit score earned for profitable the European Championships in 2016 however simply when the Portuguese public had been predicting a meek finish to their event in Qatar, Santos made a few large choices and all of a sudden, his group seem like contenders once more.
Cristiano Ronaldo was benched and changed with 21-year-old Benfica striker Goncalo Ramos, whereas Manchester Metropolis full-back Joao Cancelo and Wolves midfielder Ruben Neves — ever-present in Qatar up till that time — had been additionally neglected.
The consequence was an emphatic win over a group which had solely conceded two targets in eight qualifying video games to complete forward of Italy, prompting a renewed wave of optimism within the lead-up to what’s being seen at residence as a really winnable quarterfinal towards Morocco.
Ramos, who solely had 33 minutes of worldwide soccer beneath his belt earlier than being thrown in towards Switzerland, is the man of the moment after scoring a hat-trick however Santos has additionally proven he nonetheless has the urge for food to make massive choices — even when it means risking his shut relationship with Ronaldo.
Portugal misplaced within the final 16 in 2010 and 2018 however there’s hope now that — with a formidable attacking drive led by Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes and Joao Felix — they’ll match their run to the semifinals in 2006 and probably get even additional. Their marketing campaign has already been a curler coaster, however it may nonetheless end on a excessive. — Rob Dawson
One Morocco participant to know: Azzedine Ounahi
In Spain coach Luis Enrique’s phrases, PSG right-back Achraf Hakimi and Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech are “apparent.” Similar with Sevilla ahead Youssef En-Nesyri and Fiorentina‘s Sofyan Amrabat. However the participant who unexpectedly caught Enrique’s consideration within the spherical of 16 was Azzedine Ounahi, the 22-year-old Angers midfielder.
“He performs rather well,” Enrique stated. “I used to be very shocked.” Based on information provided by FIFA, nobody has lined extra floor in a match this event (Morocco-Spain is one in all simply two that went to further time) than Ounahi towards Spain, overlaying 14,715 meters — the equal of about 9.1 miles. He won’t be the flashiest participant on the roster, however his function profitable the ball in midfield is central to what has allowed Morocco to progress this far. — Bonagura
One Portugal participant to know: Bruno Fernandes
A lot of the noise round Portugal since they arrived in Qatar has centered on Ronaldo but quietly, Bruno Fernandes has been in fine form. Often deployed in a central function for Manchester United, he has been used on the precise of the entrance three on the World Cup and it has paid off.
Fernandes has received two targets and three assists in 4 video games with opposing groups discovering it troublesome to select up the 28-year-old as he drifts inside off the precise flank. Santos has additionally began Diogo Dalot at right-back within the final two video games and his raiding runs ahead have led to assists towards South Korea and Switzerland.
If Morocco can nullify Portugal’s proper facet they’ll have a very good likelihood of progressing. However that is simpler stated than performed. The motion of Fernandes, Felix, Bernardo and Ramos precipitated Switzerland — often strong defensively — large issues and on one other evening they may have conceded 10 moderately than simply six. — Dawson
Morocco 0, Portugal 2: Pretty much as good as Morocco have been defensively, it appears like a bit a lot to ask for one more clear sheet towards Portugal, in mild of their 6-1 thumping of Switzerland. The offensive shortcomings are sure to catch as much as them sooner or later. — Bonagura
Morocco 1, Portugal 2 (after further time): Morocco have solely conceded as soon as in Qatar and Portugal will discover them extra cussed than Switzerland, however with so many targets within the group, they’ll discover a means via ultimately. It’d take further time and also you would not put it previous Ronaldo to have a big impact off the bench in his last World Cup. — Dawson
England vs. France
Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor; 2 p.m. ET
Have they met not too long ago? This would be the third time they face one another within the World Cup. England gained the earlier two conferences: 3-1 in 1982 and 2-0 in 1966, each throughout the group levels.
Odds (by way of Caesars Sportsbook): ENG +215, FRA +130
One factor to find out about England
How courageous do England really feel? Gareth Southgate’s success over the previous six years has been constructed on breaking down obstacles which have inhibited them at previous tournaments: feeling the strain, particular person errors and substandard retention of possession.
Consequently, England’s strategy has been laced with pragmatism or, Southgate’s critics would argue, warning, which it’s instructed this younger and dynamic group don’t require to be seen at their greatest. No one is anticipating England to launch all-out assault towards the World Cup holders, however the demand on Southgate is to let top-of-the-line collections of attacking gamers at this World Cup specific themselves. A key indicator shall be seen earlier than kick-off.
Usually talking, Southgate has opted for a 3-4-3/3-5-2 form towards groups that he feels are higher than England, effectively adding an insurance policy into his line-up. To date in Qatar, England have lined up 4-3-3 and scored 12 targets, greater than every other group this event. After a sluggish begin in three of their 4 matches, England moved via the gears and located a rhythm. Can they be similarly progressive against a French team more likely to command extra of the ball?
As ever with Southgate, concerned in his seventh event for England as a participant and a coach, historical past shall be a consider his thoughts. England have merely by no means crushed an elite nation in a event knockout recreation away from Wembley in trendy occasions. They had been wonderful in defeating Germany finally summer season’s delayed Euro 2020 round-of-16 stage, but they’d the backing of a partisan residence crowd in London and Hansi Flick’s facet exiting on the group stage right here confirms this isn’t precisely a golden interval of German soccer.
Beating this massively gifted French facet, even with a number of accidents, could be totally different — an announcement victory that will make a primary trophy since 1966 a tangible risk. — James Olley
Kalvin Phillips praises Raheen Sterling after the England and Chelsea ahead’s home was damaged into throughout the World Cup.
One factor to find out about France
Didier Deschamps is reinventing Antoine Griezmann on this World Cup and it’s fascinating to see. Round two years in the past, as a joke one morning at breakfast, Deschamps instructed the Atletico de Madrid ahead: “You already know, you’d be an important holding midfielder. You’ve got every little thing to be an important No. 6!” They each laughed it off and that was it. Till Qatar.
After all of the accidents in midfield (Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante) and the gamers who’ve disappeared for the reason that triumph in Russia in 2018 (Blaise Matuidi, Corentin Tolisso), the France head coach needed to discover a new plan and a brand new construction. Adrien Rabiot and Tchouameni fitted properly, however Deschamps wanted one thing else, another person to play as an eight. A participant with aptitude, intelligence, grit, work price, coronary heart and imaginative and prescient. Griezmann was this participant.
He has gone from energy to energy on this World Cup. He began slowly towards Australia earlier than taking cost of the sport. He was excellent towards Denmark and his second half towards Poland was world-class. He runs loads (over 12 km per recreation on common), he brings fluidity, he creates area for others and possibilities (9 in three begins) and he recovers the ball (20 in three begins).
He has been a revelation on this new place and at 31, you surprise how far he can go and if it will give concepts to Diego Simeone at Madrid. When France arrived in Qatar three weeks in the past, their group was a giant jigsaw that Deschamps was attempting to place collectively. On the coronary heart of it was Antoine Griezmann. The France No. 7 has managed to stay all of the items round him collectively. — Julien Laurens
One England participant to know: Harry Kane
The 29-year-old gained the Golden Boot on the final World Cup however scored 5 of his six targets in Russia throughout the group stage. He has since modified his strategy to event soccer, aiming to peak within the knockout rounds, and his first objective in Qatar throughout England’s last-16 win over Senegal was an encouraging begin.
Nonetheless, Kane has additionally been taking part in barely in another way, dropping deeper extra usually to assist overload opponents in midfield and hyperlink play. The Tottenham striker has three assists to his identify and has been quietly efficient all through the event, apart from the 0-0 draw towards the USMNT (when England collectively had been poor).
There’ll inevitably be loads of concentrate on Kylian Mbappe from a defensive standpoint, however Kane has at all times needed to be judged alongside the perfect on the planet: taking part in a defining function in a World Cup quarterfinal towards high opposition could be one of many largest moments in his profession. Kane can be only one objective in need of equalling Wayne Rooney’s all-time England scoring report (53). — Olley
Steve Nicol and Alejandro Moreno focus on how England will look to take care of Kylian Mbappe after they face France.
One participant to know: Kylian Mbappe
There may very well be just one right here. Kylian Mbappe is the best player in the world right now. There isn’t a debate. He has been unstoppable, unplayable to date on this event with 5 targets and two assists in 4 video games. And in one in all these video games, towards Tunisia, he solely got here on for the final 27 minutes. Matty Cash, the Poland right-back, had a good recreation towards Mbappe and France within the spherical of 16. But the Paris-born ahead scored twice to seal the sport and assisted as soon as to open the scoring.
There’s a sense of accountability from Mbappe at this World Cup in addition to a way of territory. For this event to be remembered because the Mbappe World Cup, he wants to complete the job. — Laurens
England 2, France 3: England haven’t been examined defensively on this event and France will doubtless expose their vulnerabilities. They will trigger France issues of their very own, nonetheless, and this may very well be a titanic conflict settled by effective margins. — Olley
England 1, France 0: Regardless of Kylian, France will present their present limitations, particularly defensively. England have extra depth of their squad, they’re robust on set items the place the French are weak and their entrance line is spectacular. — Laurens